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For Immediate Release
March 17, 2011

Grassley Introduces Bill to Ban the Chemicals Used in Synthetic Drugs

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today introduced bipartisan legislation to ban the chemicals commonly used in synthetic drugs popularly known as “K2” or “Spice,” among other names.

“People are buying this drug so easily at the local mall or online that they think it’s safe,” Grassley said.  “The marketing is deceptive and the product is readily available, which both make the drug seem harmless.  It’s anything but harmless.  People including a young Iowan have died or been seriously injured because of this product.  Congress needs to permanently control the substances used in this drug so no more lives are lost.”

The legislation is called the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011 and the David Mitchell Rozga Act, named for the 18-year-old from Indianola who took his own life soon after using K2 purchased from his local shopping mall.  Poison control centers and emergency rooms around the country are reporting skyrocketing cases of calls and visits resulting from K2 use, with physical effects including increased agitation, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures.  A number of people across the country have acted violently while under the influence of the drug, dying or injuring themselves and others.

Many states have acted to ban the sale and possession of the chemical compounds found in these products.  Many more states, counties and communities throughout the country have proposed bans or are in the process of banning these products. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has banned five chemicals found in K2. However, this ban will last only for one year with an option to extend the ban for an additional six months.  There is no guarantee that the chemicals will be banned permanently in the timeframe allowed.  The legislation introduced today would impose a permanent ban on the five chemicals initially banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration, plus additional chemicals, used to make the drug.  The legislation treats K2 like other banned narcotics such as methamphetamine and cocaine. 

Grassley is co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley
On The David Mitchell Rozga Act
March 17, 2011

Mr. President, all too often we learn of new and emerging drug threats to our communities that often have a huge negative impact on our youth. When these drug threats emerge it is crucial that we unite to halt the spread of the problem before it consumes families and communities.

Today we are confronted with new and very dangerous substances packaged as innocent products. Specifically, more and more kids are able to go online or to the nearest novelty store at the local shopping mall and purchase incense laced with compounds that seriously alter the mind. These products are commonly referred to as “K2”or “Spice” among other names. Although these products contain a label that states that the product is not for human consumption, kids and drug users are smoking these products in order to obtain a “legal high.”

It is believed that these products emerged on the scene beginning about 4 or 5 years ago and their use spread quickly throughout Europe. According to a study conducted by the European Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, most of the chemical compounds found in “K2” are not reported on the label. This study concluded that the compounds are not listed because there is a deliberate marketing strategy to represent this product as a natural substance.

However, these products are anything but natural. Most of the chemical compounds the Drug Enforcement Administration has identified within K2 products were invented by Dr. John W. Huffman of Clemson University in the 1990s for research purposes. These compounds were never intended to be used for any other purpose than research. Dr. Huffman developed these compounds to further understand endocannabinoid receptors in the body. They were only tested on mice and never tested on humans. No long term effects of their use are currently known.

As more and more people are experimenting with K2 it is becoming completely evident that their use is anything but safe. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports significant increases in the amount of calls concerning these products. There were only 13 calls related to K2 use reported for 2009, but there were over 1,000 calls concerning K2 use in 2010. Common effects reported by emergency room doctors include: increased agitation, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures. Effects from the highs from these synthetic drugs are reported to last as few as several hours and as long as one week. Dr. Huffman stated that since so little research has been conducted on these compounds that using any one of them would be like, “playing Russian roulette.”

In fact, Dr. Anthony Scalzo, a professor of emergency medicine at St. Louis University, reports that the compounds are significantly more potent than the active ingredients of marijuana. Dr. Scalzo states that what is troubling is the fact that the amount of compounds varies from product to product so no one can be sure exactly the amount of the drug they are putting in their body. Dr. Scalzo states that this can lead to significant problems such as altering of mind, addiction, injury, and even death.

According to various news articles across the nation, K2 can cause serious erratic and criminal behavior. In Mooresville, Indiana police arrested a group of teens after they were connected to a string of burglaries while high on K2. Another case in Honolulu, Hawaii shows police arrested a 23-year-old man after he tried to throw his girlfriend off an 11th floor balcony after smoking K2. A 14 year-old boy in Missouri nearly threw himself out of a 5th story window after smoking K2. Once the teen got over his high he denied having any suicidal intentions. Doctors believe he was hallucinating at the time of this incident.

K2 use is also causing serious health problems and increased visits to the emergency room. A Louisiana teen said he became very ill after trying K2. The teen said he experienced numbness starting at his feet and traveling to his head. He was nauseous, light-headed and was having hallucinations. This teen stated that K2 is being passed around at school and that many people were trying it without fear, assuming it was safe because it was legal. A 21-year-old man, from Greenfield, Indiana repeatedly stabbed himself in the neck while hallucinating on K2.

Regrettably, K2 use also has deadly consequences. On June 6, 2010, David Rozga, a recent 18 year-old Indianola, Iowa, high school graduate smoked a package of K2 along with his friends before going to a concert thinking it was harmless fun. According to his parents, David and his friends purchased this product at a mall in Des Moines after hearing about it from some college students who were home for the summer. After smoking this product, David’s friends reported that David became highly agitated and terrified. When he got home, he found a family shotgun and committed suicide approximately 90 minutes after smoking K2. The Indianola police believe David was under the influence of K2 at the time of his death. David’s parents and many in the community who knew David were completely shocked and saddened by this event. David was looking forward to starting his college career at the University of Northern Iowa in the fall.  As a result, the Iowa Pharmacy Board placed an emergency ban on K2 products in Iowa beginning on July 21, 2010. A permanent ban is currently being considered in the legislature.

David’s tragic death may have been the first case in the United States of synthetic drug use leading to someone’s death, but sadly it was only the beginning. A month after David’s tragic death, police report that a 28-year-old Middletown, Indiana mother of two passed away after smoking a lethal dose of K2. This woman’s godson reported that anyone could get K2 easily because it can be sold to anybody at any price at any time. This last August, a recent 19-year-old Lake Highlands High School graduate in Dallas, Texas passed away after smoking K2. The medical examiner confirmed that this boy had K2 in his system at the time of his death. Even more disturbing is the involvement of synthetic drugs in a recent school shooting that occurred in Omaha, Nebraska in January of 2011. Robert Butler Jr. shot and killed himself and Dr. Vicki Kaspar, the assistant principal at the school. Doctors have confirmed that Robert Butler had K2 in his system at the time of the shooting.

These incidents throughout the country give me great concern that synthetic drug use, especially K2 use, is a dangerous and growing problem. Many states, including Iowa, have acted to ban the sale and possession of the chemical compounds found in these products. Many more states, counties and communities throughout the country have proposed bans or are in the process of banning these products. The DEA has administratively scheduled five chemicals found in K2. However, this ban will only last for one year with an option to extend the ban for an additional six months.  There is no guarantee that the chemicals will be permanently banned in the timeframe allowed.

It is time to stop the use and trafficking of these products before more tragedies occur. This is why I’m pleased that my colleague, Senator Feinstein, is joining me in introducing the David Mitchell Rozga Act. Although David Rozga is one victim of many from these terrible drugs, his tragic death highlights the damaging nature of these substances and the great loss that they incur to our society. This legislation will take the chemicals the DEA has identified within K2 products and places them as Schedule I narcotics with other deadly drugs like meth and cocaine. The legislation will also amend the Controlled Substances Act, doubling the timeframe the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services have to emergency schedule substances from 18 months to 36 months.  This will allow for dangerous substances to be quickly removed from the market while being studied for permanent scheduling. I am grateful that the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a group that represents more than 5,000 local community anti-drug coalitions throughout the nation, is endorsing this legislation to ban these dangerous synthetic drugs from our society.

Mr. President, it is clear that the sale and use of synthetic drugs is a growing problem. People believe, like David Rozga believed, these products are safe because they can buy them online or at the nearest shopping mall. We need to do a better job at educating the public and our communities about the dangers these products present and nip this problem in the bud before it grows and leads to more tragedy. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this important legislation.