Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Designer drugs slip past prosecution

TAMPA — The term "designer drug" was coined by a University of California at Davis pharmacologist in the '80s, used to describe man-made drugs more potent than ever.

Ecstasy. PCP. GHB. LSD.

As legislators outlawed these drugs, manufacturers simply tweaked the formulas to get new, legal versions. Authorities realized they were always behind.

So federal lawmakers passed a bill to outlaw designer drugs in 1986. But it has been largely ineffective.

Called the Federal Analog Act, the law states that any chemical "substantially similar" to a controlled substance will be treated as one, if intended for human consumption.

It was the first time the government had tried to outlaw entire groups of drugs.

And it should have stopped bath salts.

• • •

Over the past century, synthetic drugs have been born in laboratories, usually for medical purposes.

Bath salts are primarily derivatives of the drug cathinone. One of the original versions was first distributed as an antidepressant. But people started abusing these drugs. Authorities outlawed cathinone in 1993.

Then, in late 2010, authorities in Louisiana noticed a similar drug in packages labeled "bath salts" and "plant food," available in convenience stores and online.

They were legal — unless prosecutors used the Federal Analog Act.

The cathinone derivatives found in "bath salts"— methylone, MDPV, mephedrone — were structurally similar to cathinone, and they provided similar effects.

But prosecutors have shied away from using the very act designed to stop drugs like these.

In fact, the Federal Analog Act has never been used in the Middle District of Florida.

It is just too weak, several lawyers told the Tampa Bay Times.

One problem: It's hard to define "similar," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

These cases often turn into battles of experts — expensive cases to mount. The defense's witnesses describe the compounds' differences. The prosecution's witnesses talk about similarities.

Meanwhile, the law's vagueness poses another legal challenge, explained attorney Joseph Ruddy, chief of narcotics for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.

For a law to be used in court, the defendant must have known he did something illegal.

Analog Act cases have lost in court after the defense argues that the accused had no idea the drug was "substantially similar" to another, already outlawed one. It's complicated chemistry, and if expert witnesses cannot agree, how was the defendant to know?

"They can say they did not knowingly violate the law," Ruddy said.

• • •

So, what can authorities do in the fight against designer drugs?

They can strengthen the Analog Act.

One lawyer laid out his suggestions in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, saying that "substantially similar" needs to be further refined — perhaps by saying the molecule can only differ by "one functional group."

Or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration could publish what it considers potential analogs, wrote attorney Greg Kau.

Another strategy is to continue adding more drugs to the list of controlled substances. To fill the time gap while these bills become laws, authorities can use emergency orders, as Bondi did with several versions of bath salts.

In a recent interview with the Times, she hinted at a sweeping package her office plans to introduce in the 2013 legislative session that would help authorities fight synthetic drugs in the state.

She said lawmakers cannot outlaw entire classes of drugs because some have legitimate uses. But there are other strategies.

"We're looking at what we can legally do from a business perspective and from a regulatory perspective," she said. "Because good kids are taking these drugs."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Comments
Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

WEEKI WACHEE — The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday investigated the death of a Hillsborough County man in the Eagle’s Nest, an underwater network of caves where at least 11 others have died since 1981.Even experienced divers have lost th...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Bicyclist dead after being hit by car in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A bicyclist is dead after he was hit by a car just before 10 a.m. Saturday morning, police said.Police were still investigating the crash in the 8700 block of 49th Street N late Saturday morning.Police shut down northbound 49th Street...
Published: 01/20/18

Motorcyclist crashes into Subaru while trying to flee Pinellas deputies

CLEARWATER — A 21-year-old fleeing from deputies on a motorcycle crashed into car while speeding away from a cruiser Friday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Michael Brown, of Clearwater, was recklessly driving his 2016...
Published: 01/20/18

Clearwater man in critical condition after medical episode while driving

DUNEDIN — A 60-year-old Clearwater man who likely had a medical episode while driving is now in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after rolling over his car, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. A Largo police off...
Published: 01/20/18

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Published: 01/19/18

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Published: 01/19/18
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Published: 01/19/18
Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

When former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a plane crash in November, he had amphetamines, morphine and the sleep aid zolpidem in his system, according to an autopsy report. Halladay, 40, died from blunt force trauma with drownin...
Published: 01/19/18
Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

PALM HARBOR — The former president of a local youth football league is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the group and using it in part to buy a mobile home.According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, deputies on Tuesday arrested L...
Published: 01/19/18
Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

FORT LAUDERDALE — Rapper Kodak Black has been ordered held without bail in Florida on seven felony charges that include child neglect and drug possession.The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested the 20-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dieuson Octave,...
Published: 01/19/18