Teresa Woolson of Oswego joined state lawmakers Tuesday to push for the ban of synthetic drugs.
Woolson’s son Victor, a Mexico High School graduate, died from injuries suffered as a result of synthetic drug use.
He drowned in Lake Ontario while swimming at Flat Rock. His friends who were with him told police he had purchased a synthetic marijuana, called “K-2 Avalanche,” at Xtreme Underground in Oswego right before going swimming.
He purchased the drug after the state and federal ban of synthetic drugs was in place.
“I came to Albany today to help prevent another family feeling the pain and destruction these poisons can cause,” Woolson said.
“This legislation, when passed, will help us stay one step ahead of the criminals and help keep these poisons off store shelves, ultimately saving lives. I want to thank everyone here in attendance for your concern about this important issue,” she said.
Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, state Sen. Patricia Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, Assemblyman Robert Oaks, R-Macedon, and other state Senate and Assembly members and Upstate Poison Control officials said at a press conference March 4 that banning synthetic drugs has been a challenge because New York and the federal government outlaw drugs based on their chemical compounds.
Because these drugs are synthetic, manufacturers have been able to slightly change their chemical composition so they are no longer on the state’s controlled substance list and therefore no longer illegal.
In addition, synthetic drugs are often mislabeled and sold as products other than drugs (i.e., bath salts, shoe deodorant and incense). However, the seller and the purchaser realize that the intended use of the synthetic drug is to provide a high for the user.
The legislation announced Tuesday addresses mislabeling, chemical swapping and creates penalties for possessing and selling synthetic drugs equivalent to their “street drug” counterpart.
The bill contains two key provisions:
** Broader power is given to the Commissioner of Health to add synthetic drugs and their chemical compounds to the controlled substance list, rather than having the legislature act to add to the controlled substance list; and
** Stores will be penalized for selling mislabeled products when they are clearly intended to be used as drugs.
In addition, pursuant to this legislation, if a person believes a store is selling synthetic drugs, they can file a complaint with the Attorney General. Based on evidence, the Attorney General can act and make an application to the court requesting a special procedure, to issue an injunction to stop selling the product.
If it is determined by the court that the store violated the law of mislabeling synthetic drug for a minor to purchase, those individuals could be charged with a felony.
By expanding the Department of Health commissioner’s powers to add these substances to the controlled substance list, action can be taken immediately to put these dangerous items on the banned substances list, eliminating the need for the Legislature to revisit this issue each time a new chemical compound is introduced.
“This legislation helps us to take the next step when it comes to putting an end to the use of these dangerous substances that as we’ve seen, have the potential to cause violence, crime and even death,” said state Sen. Patricia Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, who sponsors the legislation in the Senate.
Oaks, who represnts western Oswego County, said the push for change in the law to end easy access to dangerous synthetic drugs must continue until people can no longer obtain them at all.
“We’ve banned the products from retail stores, but that’s not enough. Now, we need to urge the rest of our colleagues and leaders in Albany to take this important issue up once again. We need to prevent our youth from obtaining these drugs underground, while at the same time, imposing harsh penalties for those who continue to sell these substances,” said Oaks.
“The scariest thing about these drugs is people don’t know what’s in it. The compounds keep changing and the packaging is designed to be attractive even to young children,” said Lee Livermore, public education coordinator for the Upstate New York Poison Control Center.
“Some packages even have statements that the product is legal, but don’t list the actual ingredients,” Livermore said.
Brian Colombo, the owner of Xtreme Underground, the store where Victor Woolson is reported to have purchased his “K-2 Avalanche,” will be in Oswego City Court March 19.
He is charged with two misdemeanors stemming from selling unbranded synthetic drugs at the store.