Ban on synthetic drugs like K2, spice pushed after rash of overdoses

Synthetic cannabinoid can be 100 times more potent than THC, a CDC report said.

Story highlights

  • New legislation is targeting synthetic marijuana and other drugs
  • It comes after about 130 suspected overdoses in one week in New York City

(CNN)Nearly two dozen substances in synthetic drugs such as "K2" and "spice" would be illegal under proposed legislation that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer discussed at a press conference on Sunday.

There were 130 suspected overdoses on synthetic drugs in New York last week, in what Schumer described as "a scene from 'The Walking Dead.' But it was no TV set, it was real life."
    Despite fewer K2-related emergency room visits expected in New York in July compared to a year ago, Schumer noted there were more than 6,000 people hospitalized in 2015.
    "We need a federal hammer to nail these toxic concoctions of synthetic drugs before things get worse," said Schumer, a Democrat. Banning these drugs quickly will help federal agents stem the tide of synthetic drug use in New York and across the country, he said.
    According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, synthetic cannabinoid can be 100 times more potent than THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Schumer's legislation would also include variants of the opioid fentanyl.
    Many chemicals used in synthetic marijuana -- which killed three people between 2010 and 2015 -- are still legal. Producers of "fake weed" continually change the chemical compound, thereby exploiting a legal loophole and drug test detection.
    The legislation intends to add more chemicals to the list of Schedule I controlled substances, which means the drugs have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Fifteen synthetic cannabinoids are currently classified as Schedule 1.
    The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so Schumer said he believes it has a chance to pass swiftly.
    "Our bill cracks down on these dangerous substances by permanently controlling them under federal law," Grassley said in a statement announcing the legislation on Friday. "It's an important first step to preventing further loss of innocent life to these dangerous and deceiving drugs."
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    During a press conference in Manhattan, Schumer presented a small container labeled "potpourri," one name under which the synthetic drugs are sold.
    "Unfortunately, it's legal and does a lot of damage. It shouldn't be sold to the people of New York," Schumer said.
    A ban on 22 drugs he said are sold most frequently is a first step in an ongoing battle with the drugs. The next is legislation that will provide the Drug Enforcement Administration with broader authority to ban even unlisted chemicals, Schumer said, "but that will take a while. This [legislation] will ban the most dangerous ones right away."