Only a few years ago, synthetic drugs weren’t on anyone’s radar screen, but it has become one of the biggest health risks facing youth today.
Law enforcement officials and medical professionals say designer drug use is a real problem in Rapid City and other area cities.
Dr. James Gilbert works in Rapid City Regional Hospital’s emergency services and said treating people experiencing a bad reaction to a synthetic drug is a daily problem.
Rapid City Police Officer Paul Wathen, liaison officer at South Middle School, said synthetic drugs are “very prevalent because of the easy access and the ways the sellers circumvent the laws. When people assume something is legal, they assume it is safe.”
A recent educational forum on synthetic and prescription drug abuse put on by Lifeways turned away hundreds of people because The Journey Museum theater was at capacity. Lifeways is a drug and alcohol prevention, education and awareness program that has advisers in middle and high schools in Rapid City, Hill City and Custer.
Michelle Mott, a Lifeways adviser, told the audience that students may turn to synthetic drugs because they think there is less risk involved because the substances are being sold legally.
A bill before the state Legislature would make it illegal to possess and use synthetic drugs containing a wide variety of specific chemical compounds.
Testimony before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee stressed that the use of synthetic drugs had become epidemic in South Dakota, and that the health risks of the drugs was unknown. The law banning the substances was needed because the drugs are being sold in stores and packaged as herbal remedies, synthetic marijuana, bath salts, incense, etc., with no warnings about the danger of ingesting the contents.
Senate Bill 23 passed the state Senate on a 34-0 vote and is now before the House.
We support the passage of SB 23, although we don’t agree that possession of small amounts of the illegal drugs should be a felony that can mar a young person’s life because of a stupid mistake. During committee debate, some lawmakers argued that these substances should be banned under the marijuana statute, which makes possession of small amounts a misdemeanor, rather than the controlled substances statute, which makes unauthorized possession of any amount a felony.
Educating children and young people about the risks of synthetic drugs is crucial, and Lifeways and area police departments are trying to get the word out.
Parents are ultimately responsible, but synthetic drugs are an unfamiliar and unexpected danger to children’s health and safety.
The Legislature needs to act this session to help law enforcement deal with the threat posed by the sale and marketing of synthetic drugs and to send the message to South Dakota’s youth that the substances are illegal and dangerous to their health.