Synthetic compound added to federal schedule of controlled substances the examiner la gas prices average

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A synthetic cannabinoid (SC) purported to induce a marijuana-like high in users was added to the federal schedule of controlled substances Jan. 30, along with two others, and law enforcement, forensic scientists and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas John Malcolm Bales say the toxic compound has been causing havoc right here in Southeast Texas.

AB-CHMINACA, AB-PINACA, and THJ-2201 were officially deemed Schedule 1 controlled substances by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) after a request for the temporary order was initiated September 2014, necessary to avoid what the agency called “an imminent hazard to the public safety.”

“We’re seeing a big increase of AB-CHMINACA, a newer synthetic marijuana,” said Sgt. Baker. He said that in Louisiana, a variant of the compound, known as MAB-CHMINACA, has caused numerous overdoses, with more than 125 affected people reporting to Baton Rouge hospitals Oct. 3, 2014, leading Gov. Bobby Jindal and officials with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), and Louisiana State Police to announce an emergency ban of the compound Oct. 29, 2014. According to the Louisiana DHH, the designer drug was being sold under names such as “Mojo” and “Spice,” the latter being used as a generic term for SCs, often referred to as the brand name Kush or as synthetic marijuana.

“I’m familiar with that compound (AB-CHMINACA) because we see it a lot,” said U.S. Attorney Bales. Bales said he does not endorse marijuana use or legalization, but asserts that there is a big difference between real marijuana and these compounds meant to mimic the drug’s effects. “It’s a misnomer to call it ‘synthetic marijuana.’ It’s hardly marijuana. It’s a chemical compound. This stuff is way more dangerous than actual marijuana.”

Just how dangerous is this particular compound? According to reports from the DEA’s Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section, Office of Diversion Control, AB-CHMINACA is believed to have contributed to or been responsible for at least three deaths over the span of a month in 2014 and for other reported adverse health effects, including excited delirium syndrome, defined by the FBI as “a serious and potentially deadly medical condition involving psychotic behavior, elevated temperature, and an extreme fight-or-flight response by the nervous system.” According to the office, in April 2014, a 21-year-old female in Lafayette, Louisiana, died with the cause of death determined to be “drowning with contribution of poly-drug toxicity.” Laboratory results detected AB-CHMINACA in both drug evidence and biological samples. That same month, following the death of a 38-year-old male in Bay Minette, Alabama, laboratory results detected AB-CHMINACA in his biological samples, as well. Also in April 2014, a male arrived at a local emergency department in Mobile, Alabama, with excited delirium following ingestion of an SC. Laboratory tests on drug evidence detected AB-CHMINACA.

In another reported case from April 2014, a 52-year-old male in Lafayette, Louisiana, suffered severe injuries after jumping through a window due to excited delirium following ingestion of a product known as “Mojo” found to contain AB-CHMINACA.

While none of those instances took place in Southeast Texas, more than 50 overdoses from a particularly strong batch of an SC were reported in Beaumont around the holidays in December 2014. Forensic scientist Emily Esquivel from the Jefferson County Crime Lab, which serves both Orange and Jefferson counties, said that although the overdoses may or may not have resulted from AB-CHMINACA specifically, the dangerous chemical compound has definitely impacted Southeast Texas.

“What happens is, like with the CHMINACA we’ve been seeing, because it went controlled, in a few weeks we won’t see it again,” Esquivel explained. “It will go away. Every time they control it, that one tends to fall off and something new comes out. They’re changing one of the atoms on the molecular chain. It’s various changes. Then, it’s no longer controlled but it’s a new drug, kind of giving the same results.”

According to Esquivel, the new compounds replacing the scheduled ones are just as dangerous as those preceding, possibly worse, and she agrees with Bales that the SCs are much more dangerous than actual marijuana. She said the crime lab works on cases involving the compounds every single day of the week.

Bales said in order to better combat those constantly changing compounds, cities and the state must take steps of their own to impose restrictions on the dangerous and deadly synthetics. Many cities in Southeast Texas have already placed a kind of blanket ban on all synthetic compounds meant to mimic the effects of marijuana, and until the state of Texas passes legislation scheduling the compound, or also creates a blanket ban of types, those measures are necessary, says Bales. Beaumont does not yet have such an ordinance, but most cities in Orange County do, and Chief Deputy Clint Hodgkinson of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said he believes the city ordinances have had a positive effect in the ongoing war against SCs there.

“When they passed laws a few years ago, they regulated the (SCs) a lot more,” said Hodgkinson. “The ordinances have definitely been effective against selling the products in the stores, although we still see a few. From time to time, we get information about them.”

“I believe every city in Jefferson and Orange counties, except for Beaumont, has a city ordinance against it,” said Esquivel. “If you’re caught with this you get kind of like a speeding ticket (citation). I think what that did was kind of take it out of the gas stations, but it’s still out there everywhere. It’s all over the streets.”

Bales said he too believes the city ordinances are effective to a degree, keeping the compounds out of stores. Although those ordinances around the area have made an impact, he added, some stores are still selling the SCs. He said he believes business owners should be held accountable for the illegal activity, not just the store clerks who are often arrested. In the meantime, he recommends citizens take actions against the offending stores, utilizing consumer power to hopefully shut down such places.

According to Bales, legislation is “behind the curve” due to the rapidly changing compounds, and the state should take a tougher position against all types of SCs. He explained that the state must ban AB-CHMINACA, along with the federal government, in order for him to prosecute cases in which the compound was discovered.

“The Texas legislature also needs to strengthen laws against it. That’s been the problem in this particular area,” Bales said regarding prosecution of cases relating to SCs. “Chemistry changes so rapidly. If it’s on the federal schedule but not listed as illegal in Texas, we must wait until the state lists it to deem illegal. It must be illegal in both sovereigns.”

Bales said an exception could sometimes be made when a compound is considered an analog of an already listed compound, and offenders in possession or distributing the analog could be prosecuted. However, the criteria for deeming a compound an analog is strict, making prosecution of those substances “challenging.”

“The compounds must meet certain criteria to be prosecuted as analog, including intent to distribute it as a drug,” explained Bales. “We also must prove it is chemically similar to existing scheduled compounds. It makes it much harder to prosecute analogs.”

Bales said he hopes to see legislation catch up soon, making it easier to prosecute users and distributors of the deadly chemical compounds. Until then, he cautions the public to stay away from Spice and report its presence to law enforcers.