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Grassley, Feinstein Pitch New Framework to Combat Synthetic Drugs

Bill targets fast-paced evolution of deadly drugs that mimic controlled substances

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein are proposing a new approach to fight the spread of deadly synthetic drugs, which can be quickly re-engineered to circumvent federal laws designed to outlaw them. Their legislation, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act of 2017, would allow substances that are substantially similar to controlled drugs to be rapidly regulated without additional time-consuming testing and analysis. Grassley and Feinstein, who are also leaders of the International Narcotics Control Caucus, offered the legislation as a means of exploring new and innovative solutions to combating the rise of synthetic drugs, which have also exacerbated the opioid epidemic with the widespread availability of analogues of the controlled substance fentanyl.
“Criminals pushing illicit drugs are able to skirt existing laws by slightly changing the chemical makeup of a substance that has already been outlawed or regulated and flood the market before the law can catch up. It’s created a deadly game of ‘whack-a-mole’ as law enforcement struggles to keep pace under the current drug scheduling regime. We’ve also seen the grave consequences of these synthetics in the ongoing opioid epidemic. Our bill builds on the conversation we’ve had in the Senate over the past few years to help get ahead of the poison peddlers,” Grassley said.
“Synthetic drugs and synthetic opioids present an increasingly growing threat to our country. We have already seen far too many instances of dangerous drugs like fentanyl wreaking havoc on American communities. As it stands now, there are significant challenges associated with prosecuting those who manufacture and traffic these deadly drugs. This bill would address those challenges and give law enforcement the necessary flexibility to bring those who traffic dangerous synthetic substances to justice,” Feinstein said.
Illicit drug makers and traffickers are able to circumvent current laws prohibiting the unauthorized use of controlled substances by altering a single atom or molecule in a laboratory to create a new, yet significantly similar substance, which has not yet been outlawed. This allows them to make, market and move substances – often originally imported from China or Mexico – that are intended to have the same effect as controlled drugs outside the reach of existing law. Under the current drug scheduling system, uncontrolled substances must first be subject to a time-consuming analysis before being permanently regulated or outlawed.
The legislation allows substances to be temporarily or permanently added to a new category of controlled substances, known as Schedule A, if their chemical structure is substantially similar to an existing controlled substance and they are expected to have the same or greater effect on the human body. This will allow for a more rapid control of drugs designed to be used in the same illicit manner as already-regulated or outlawed drugs. The legislation applies existing Schedule III criminal penalties for manufacturers and traffickers of Schedule A substances, and provides new civil tools to help shut down convenience stores and head shops where these substances are sold. The bill does not impose new mandatory minimum sentences and expressly does not criminalize simple possession of a Schedule A substance. The bill also includes provisions to ensure that legitimate research on substances placed on Schedule A can still be undertaken.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of a Judiciary Committee hearing examining the deadly impact of synthetic drugs and the challenges of policing them, and the seven-year anniversary of the death of Indianola, Iowa, teen David Rozga while using a synthetic drug for the first time. David’s father testified at the hearing.
Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act of 2017
·         Legislative Text
·         Summary