Small Town Ordinance Fights Surging Synthetic Drug Usage

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BELLE - Since the 1970s, U.S. law enforcement agencies have been waging the "war on drugs", but numbers from the latest battlefield show synthetic drug usage has skyrocketed in recent years. Synthetic drugs, most notably bath salts and K-2, have kept law enforcement, health care providers, and lawmakers busy fighting the trend. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, in 2010, poison centers received 3,200 calls regarding synthetic drugs.  In 2011, that number more than tripled to more than 13,000 calls. In 2012, numbers are expected to increase even more. What's even more alarming to law enforcement and health care providers is that some of these substances are legal for sale.

"Outside of the City of Belle, some of these synthetic drugs like powder form glass cleaners and insect repellent are entirely legal," said Belle Police Chief Michael Dixon. "It's costing people their families, their lives, and we are seeing a significant epidemic - I'll call it - in our surrounding communities."

Chief Dixon recently drafted an ordinance in the City of Belle that outlaws any substance that mimics the effects of synthetic drugs.  The city council took up the ordinance and passed it unanimously.  There are several laws on the books regarding synthetic drugs, but what makes Belle's ordinance unique is that it bans all chemical compounds that would intentionally induce symptoms of synthetic drugs, not just specific chemical products.

Dixon said that state law just doesn't cut it and synthetic drug manufacturers can stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

"The reason I feel it's ineffective is because the people who manufacture the substance have gone and completely changed the drug they are manufacturing," said Dixon. 

These synthetic drugs aren't only keeping law enforcement officials on their toes, but medical professionals as well. Cindy Butler is the Director of Critical Care at Phelps County Regional Medical Center.  She said she's seen more than 100 people in her hospital suspected of using synthetic drugs.

"It's really hard to put a number on it since there's no test for most of these substances," said Butler.

She added it's hard to treat people on synthetic drugs because they are usually agitated and violent.

"That's probably the scariest thing for me as a health care provider is the fact that the violence is so much worse than what we've seen in the past. Health care workers are going to start being hurt," said Butler. "It's very scary. Not only are the people volatile and violent, so is the drug."

That's not far off from what health care providers are seeing across the state, including Columbia.

"It's becoming a weekly phenomenon.  Hardly a week goes by that we don't see someone like that. And I think it's even more frequent right now," said Dr. Gale Osgood, an Emergency Room Doctor at University Hospital.

Osgood said he's seen an increase in patients who are suspected to be on synthetic drugs become more violent.

"We see all kinds of people who are fairly agitated. It takes numerous security guards to really hold them down so we can get some kind of sedating medication into them," said Dr. Osgood. "We are seeing that all the time."

Dixon said Belle's ordinance will stand up on its own.

"We've had the city attorney go over it and we are confident in the language of the ordinance," said Dixon.

Dixon went one step further, adding that he hopes state lawmakers will take up a version of the ordinance to pass into state law when they return to the Capitol in January.

Belle City Ordinance