Over the past few years, synthetic drugs have become a major problem in this country. U.S. federal, state and local governments, and even non-governmental bodies, have taken steps to slow the spread of synthetic drug production and use. However, many forms of synthetic drugs are still readily available and are likely more dangerous than the drugs they are intended to mimic. The most common form of synthetic drug mimics the effects of marijuana and is commonly referred to as fake pot, K2, Spice, or incense.
The makers of synthetic marijuana lace plant material with synthetic cannabinoids that mimics THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The makers then bag the laced plant material, put a brand name or slogan on the package, and importantly, include the warning “not for internal consumption,” or “not for human consumption,” on the bags.
These products are labeled as incense or potpourri and were available at gas stations, convenience stores, smoke shops, and tobacco and beverage stores as recently as 2011 in Alabama. Not only were these drugs readily available, but they were sold to minors. Many young people did not appreciate the danger of the substance due to the fact that it was legal and would not show up on a drug test. Although most states have taken legislative action and banned synthetic drugs, several states have not, and they are still available at many convenience stores and smoke shops.
Similarly, a synthetic drug that mimicked cocaine or amphetamine was also readily available under the disguise of bath salts. The synthetic drugs labeled as bath salts are produced in much the same way as synthetic marijuana. The manufacturers spray bath salts with a synthetic ingredient that when smoked, offers a high similar to a stimulant such as cocaine or amphetamine. Makers again brand the substances, and include the same warning of “not for internal consumption,” or “not for human consumption.” These drugs have also been readily available and have caused countless users to act in unpredictable manners.
Synthetic marijuana first appeared in the United States in November of 2008. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, 2,906 calls were received relating to exposure to synthetic marijuana by 2010. During the following year, 2011, that number more than doubled as 6,959 calls were received. The American Association of Poison Control reports a similar trend for bath salts as well. In 2010, the Association received 304 calls related to bath salts exposure and the number sky rocketed to 6,138 in 2011.
It was very disturbing to learn that 11.4 percent of the nation’s twelfth graders admitted to smoking synthetic marijuana. That information is found in the 2011 “Monitoring the Future” survey of youth drug use trends. As a result of these alarming trends, the federal government and many states have taken aggressive actions to subvert the spread of synthetic drug sales and use. Many of the synthetic substances used to create bath salts and fake pot were designated as Schedule I substances by the DEA under its emergency scheduling authority in 2011. Since then many states, including Alabama, have taken even more progressive steps to outlaw these designer drugs.
The recently-passed Alabama law not only outlaws the known substances used to create the synthetic drugs, but it also includes a “catch all” provision that bans all substances that mimic the effects of the outlawed substances. This provision is extremely important because by slightly altering the illegal chemicals, a new, distinct substance not covered by the initial ban is created. Hopefully, this law will help solve that problem. These laws are a huge leap in the right direction and have done a very good job of helping to keep these drugs off the shelves of convenience stores. Unfortunately, these drugs are still readily available over the internet and are even being produced in homes and make-shift labs.
There has been civil litigation involving synthetic drugs. Many persons who have been hurt, or who have had a family member die, are contending that synthetic drugs contributed in causing a Defendant’s wrongful conduct. This has most commonly occurred in cases where a driver injures another person after using synthetic drugs. But, a few lawsuits allege wrongful death and products liability claims against the manufacturers and distributors of these drugs. In one such case, the parents of a Fayette County, Ga., teen who died after smoking synthetic marijuana, filed a wrongful death suit against the distributor of a synthetic drug. The 16 year old, Chase Burnett, died in his family’s hot tub in March of last year. An open package of synthetic marijuana was found next to the hot tub.
Similarly, two lawsuits which assert wrongful death claims against the manufacturer and distributor of synthetic drugs were recently filed in Indiana. In both of these cases, the Plaintiffs were killed in accidents after smoking synthetic drugs. The manufacturers of these drugs will likely assert the defense of misuse due to the “not for human consumption” warning on the package. The label for these drugs is deceptive. Although a warning is present on the package, the manufacturers obviously know that the product is being ingested because that is what it’s actually intended for. The warning label itself indicates that the manufacturers and distributors are knowingly and intentionally placing an inherently dangerous product into the market place. They know that the product is going to be harmful for the users.
It is very likely that there are other civil lawsuits pending involving synthetic drugs. It will be very interesting to see how these cases play out. One thing is certain: as long as there is money to be made, synthetic drug makers will continue to produce these dangerous drugs. Governmental action and civil litigation are good ways to fight back. But, the strongest force will likely be education. Parents and educators must warn children of the severe dangers of synthetic drugs. If you need more information on the subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: http://www.whitehouse.gov/; http://www.alreporter.com; http://www.ajc.com; http://www.wthr.com; http://www.wishtv.com
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