MN House Committee lays out plans to combat synthetic drugs

By KBJR News 1

January 29, 2014 Updated Jan 29, 2014 at 11:12 PM CDT

St. Paul, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Lynn Habhegger struggles to talk about her son two and half years after he first tried bath salts purchased at the Last Place on Earth.

"Cory didn't lose his life to synthetic drugs he lost his mind to them and ultimately we have lost our son and the man he could have become," Habhegger testified.

Corey Kellis, now 26, suffered a heart attack and renal failure after using the substance. He's now committed to a mental health facility.

"Cory will never be able to hold a job, go to college, have a profession, serve his country, get married or have a family," Habhegger said.

Emotional stories like Lynn Habhegger's, are fueling Minnesota lawmakers to create stronger laws to combat synthetic drugs.

On Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs took the next step in the process.

"I think what we've come up with today in terms of a passed set of recommendations to the speaker is a good set of recommendations. It carries strong bi partisan support and we think it essentially will be good for Minnesota," said Rep.Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth).

The report lists nearly a dozen recommendations. One calls for the expansion of the definition of 'drug.'

Another gives the Board of Pharmacy the ability to issue cease and desist orders to businesses that sell Synthetics while removing the sunset on emergency drug scheduling, set to expire in August.

"When the effort began, the legislature would ban by name, various compounds, and classify them as schedule narcotics. But sellers would then tweak the compound to stay off the list of named substance and it became a game of "Whac-a-Mole," said Attorney General Lori Swanson.

The committee's recommendations cover criminal and civil matters as well as public awareness about synthetic drugs. The one question lawmakers can't answer yet is how much all this will cost taxpayers.

"Clearly we want to make sure the campaign put forward is effective. If there is a cost to that we will certainly visit what that cost is. It's not that I don't want to talk about what the cost yet, it's that I have no idea what it is yet," Rep. Simonson said.

Lawmakers, however, are getting a better idea of how much Synthetic drugs are costing taxpayers.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota Duluth found Minnesotans footed a $425,000 bill to treat 75 patients over the span of 12 months.

"It's really difficult to get that type of data because it's such a new and fresh emerging problem even though it's been around for a few years," said Rep. Simonson.

It's a problem lawmakers say they will be able to solve with new legislation.

"It will take a family, it will take a village, it will take a county and a state and a country it will take you and it will take me, but it can be done and must be done," said Habhegger.

The new recommendations, however, don't cover the sale of synthetic drugs on the internet.

Minnesota Lawmakers say they need to work with their federal counterparts on that part of it.

Written by Kevin Jacobsen
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