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“It’s really like a game of Whac-A-Mole to stay ahead of the curve with these different chemical compounds and the Internet market,” she said.
Marquart said that buyers can be lulled into thinking that synthetic drugs are not as harmful as other drugs.
“Even the wholesale sellers don’t know what’s in it,” he said.
The teenagers charged in Fitzgerald’s death thought they were buying LSD, because the drug was marketed that way, said Lee Vague, Woodbury’s director of public safety.
“There’s no way you can buy something and know what it is … and know what the effects are going to be and this is a tragic example of that,” he said. “Depending on the chemist, they’re coming up with different versions and formulas really often. It changes rapidly and it depends on who’s manufacturing it and who’s making it.”
Synthetic drugmakers are adept at creating compounds that mimic street drugs, and can be sold in retail stores. “Almost as fast as the laws change, the things in the drugs change,” said Eric Grunwald, a forensic scientist with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
State Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, was chairman of a special legislative panel that compiled a 211-page report this year on the synthetic drug problem in Minnesota. He’s also an assistant fire chief and emergency medical technician who’s seen firsthand the effects of synthetic drug overdoses on young people who didn’t know what they had taken.
In Duluth, at one trauma center alone, there were 75 synthetic drug overdose cases in a recent 12-month period. About a quarter ended up being admitted to the ICU, and 16 percent ended up in the psychological care unit. The total costs for treating those 75 people amounted to about $425,000.
The legislative panel pushed for two new laws targeting synthetic drugs, Simonson said. One creates an educational campaign addressing the dangers of synthetic drugs in middle and high schools and will begin next year. The other gives officials greater authority to halt the sales of synthetic drugs in retail businesses.
Controlling Internet sales is another matter, Simonson said.
“That’s the million-dollar question, right? If we could somehow control that, we could really put a dent in this,” he said.
Added Vague, addressing Fitzgerald’s death: “My hope would be that this gets people’s attention and this tragedy creates an opportunity for some courageous conversations between kids and their parents.”
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