Pubdate: Fri, 06 Apr 2018
Source: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Copyright: 2018 The Daily Herald Company


Severe bleeding linked to consumption of synthetic cannabinoids has
resulted in at least two deaths and injury to nearly 90 others,
according to state health officials.

Illinois legislators approved an amendment to the state's controlled
substances act last spring in an attempt to curb the sale and use of
synthetic drugs.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law a few months later.

Less than a year after that, an outbreak of severe bleeding and at
least two deaths are being linked to the ingestion of these materials,
many of which are found for sale at tobacco shops, convenience stores
and other retail sites throughout the state.

Health officials, legal experts and law enforcement agents said that's
because manufacturers of the synthetic drugs are staying one step
ahead of the law.

"The laws keep changing and the chemicals keep changing," said Armando
Reyes, regulatory compliance manager with the Will County Health
Department Behavioral Health Division. "In just the last half-dozen
years, the dynamics of the chemical breakdown in these products have
adjusted to changed laws at least six times."

That means every time the legislature adds a particular chemical
combination to the list of controlled substances, manufacturers of
synthetic cannabinoid drugs -- marketed as "fake weed" -- change the
recipe of their product to avoid violation. Apparently, this time some
synthetic cannabinoid manufacturers are adding a chemical often found
in rat poison, which caused the bleeding, health officials said.

As of Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health has reported
89 cases throughout the state of severe bleeding linked to use of
synthetic cannabinoid products. Two people have died, they said. The
majority of cases are located in downstate Peoria and Tazewell
counties, but 24 have been reported in Chicago, six in suburban Cook
County and DuPage, Kane and Will county officials have reported one

The synthetic drugs causing the injuries contain an anti-clotting
agent that keeps existing wounds from healing by creating a potassium
deficiency, state health officials explained. The Illinois Department
of Public Health reports the drug has caused blood in urine, bloody
noses and internal bleeding.

Oftentimes the materials are also marketed as something entirely
different, like potpourri or incense, and carry labels that warn
against human consumption.

Ben Ruddell, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, says
the proliferation of synthetic drugs is a microcosm of the nation's
"40-plus years of failed drug policies." The ACLU opposed the
legislation last year because Ruddell said it merely "added a whole
bunch of new controlled substances to the list" and "prohibition is
not working."

Ruddell believes the demand for synthetic cannabis would decline if
the state moved to legalize real marijuana, like many other states
have already. Meanwhile, he said the ingredients in synthetic drugs
could become more dangerous.

"They're just moving on to things that haven't been banned yet or
moving on to other methods of dealing it," he said.

State police officials said troopers are stepping up enforcement of
the sale of synthetic drugs.

"In many cases it's a felony to sell or possess it, and if troopers
come across it on the road they are treating it like a controlled
substance," said Lt. Matt Boerwinkle, a state police spokesman.

None of these products are regulated by the federal government. Reyes
said in that way they are similar to most vitamins that don't get U.S.
Food and Drug Administration oversight, either.

"It's up to the consumer to beware," he said.
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