Share this article

print logo

Another Voice: Action is needed to control deadly synthetic drugs

By Michael P. Kearns

Synthetic drugs are a burgeoning epidemic in America and present a significant risk to New York State because the punishments for possessing and selling these substances are fines under the Agriculture Law, not felonies under the penal law.

This despite the fact that ingesting a single pill with the active ingredients no larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen has killed young adults in America. The synthetic substances that have acute toxic and deadly effects are cannabinoids, cathinones, phenethylamines, phenylpiperazines and tryptamines, among others

Synthetic drug overdoses occur mostly in rural and suburban areas. High schools and college students under the age of 25 make up 60 percent of the users of these drugs.

In 2010 the Association of Poison Control reported that there were 1,300 overdoses directly related to synthetic drugs in the United States. In 2011 the numbers increased tenfold to 13,000. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration the actual numbers are much higher, with an estimated 28,531 emergency room visits in 2011 for synthetic cannabinoid poisonings alone.

There have been mass poisonings and emergency room visits at public concerts in Dallas and Austin, Texas, Baton Rouge, La., and Boston. Will it take a mass poisoning event at the huge summer concerts in Buffalo’s Canalside or New York City’s Central Park before we act to address this epidemic in New York State?

I have had numerous conversations about the perils and lethality of these toxins with my daughter, who is in high school. I hope I will never experience the pain that so many families across this nation have felt in losing a child to these toxins.

I have heard the lament from constituents in my district that nothing major will be done until a senator or member of Congress loses a loved one to these substances.

This nation has already seen deaths of teenagers by ingesting a single pill. Christin Burke and Elijah Sty from North Dakota, 19-year-old Brittany Flannigan from Derby, N.H., and 17-year-old Tara Fitzgerald from Minnesota all died from synthetic drug poisoning.

Why do we have to wait for a significant political leader’s child to overdose, get poisoned or, God forbid, die before comprehensive and well-reasoned action is taken? We don’t.

I hope that residents throughout New York State share my concerns and contact their state, federal and local representatives in all branches of government to advocate for Assembly bill 4175, which will more effectively and comprehensively assist law enforcement in fighting this man-made scourge. 

Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, represents the 142nd Assembly District.