Indiana lawmakers take tough stance on synthetic drugs, bill headed to governor’s desk

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Lawmakers are taking a tougher stance on synthetic drugs and the people making and dealing them.

Tuesday, the Indiana Senate passed HB1186, sending the bill to the governor's desk.

"What's really interesting about these synthetic drugs is they are actually more deadly than the actual drug that they're emulating. What the prosecutors are telling me is that they are running across more and more people that are using these synthetic drugs that are doing really deadly things, like jumping off buildings and having really adverse reactions," Rep. Sharon Negele said.

Rep. Negele introduced the legislation in an effort to help get synthetic drugs off the street.

"In that section of code what we've realized is it's become so difficult to keep up with the volume of new synthetic drugs that are appearing on the market and so what we looked at this issue and thought how can we do a better job and stay a step ahead of the drug cartels? And we did that by taking the synthetic drug definition and placing it under controlled substances area," Rep. Negele, who sponsored the bill, said.

Under the legislation, the sentencing of synthetic substances would be able to mirror the drugs they mimic.

"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck it's gonna be treated like a duck instead of a B misdemeanor. So, if you're selling synthetic fentanyl, which is killing people, it'll be treated like selling heroin," David Powell, executive director, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said.

Powell said the fix in the law was needed.

"The chemists are pretty smart. they change a molecule if it's not on the list. Technically, it's legal until it gets put on the list by the pharmacy board, and this bill fills that gap. And so, like I said, if it's a fentanyl-based drug, which is lethal to people if they use it, it allows us then to go after the individuals that are selling and marketing it," Powell said.

"The unpredictability of these drugs is probably their biggest danger because you can't get used to it, you can't predict for it," Karen Bowers, a physician for Indianapolis EMS, said.

Bowers calls the drugs a significant issue—they can be dangerous and unpredictable.

"Anecdotally, I would say that we're seeing probably more significant side effects in the last two weeks,"  Bowers said.

Last year, the Wheeler Mission downtown saw the effects after experiencing a rash of overdoses at their downtown shelter and the area nearby.

"So many of those that were overdosing were very vulnerable men who were experiencing homelessness who were preyed upon by the drug dealers outside of our facility," Steve Kerr, executive vice president of advancement, Wheeler Mission, said.

While they don't see anything like that now, they do still see synthetic drugs and the effort at the Statehouse is one they support.

"That's still one of the prevalent overdoses that we're seeing is spice—like I said often laced with fentanyl or some other really nasty chemistry—and so to get all that off the streets, that's a win," Kerr said.

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