Legislation targets fast-paced evolution of material that mimics controlled substances
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers from both houses of Congress today introduced a new framework to fight the rapid spread of deadly synthetic drugs, which can quickly be re-engineered to circumvent federal laws designed to outlaw them. The Stop Importation and Manufacturing of Synthetic Analogues (SIMSA) Act, introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), along with Representatives John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), would allow substances substantially similar to controlled drugs to temporarily regulated while more time-consuming testing, research and analysis can be performed. The proposal is designed to help law enforcement more rapidly respond to the fast-paced modification of synthetic drugs such as analogues to fentanyl, which have contributed to a spike in overdose deaths in the opioid epidemic.
“Criminals pushing illicit drugs are able to skirt existing laws by slightly changing the chemical makeup of a substance that has already been outlawed or regulated and flood the market before the law can catch up. It’s created a deadly game of ‘whack-a-mole’ as law enforcement struggles to keep pace under the current drug scheduling regime. We’ve also seen the grave consequences of these synthetics in the ongoing opioid epidemic. Our bill provides the needed flexibility to help get ahead of the poison peddlers,” Grassley said.
“While we’ve made great strides in the fight against opioids, drugs like fentanyl continue to wreak havoc on families across Iowa. This is often due to controlled substances that are being smuggled across our borders and into our communities. This bill gives law enforcement the ability to ban dangerous substances and works to deter and punish drug trafficking,” Ernst said.
“During my time in Congress, I heard from countless families in Central New York who have been devastated by the heroin and synthetic drug epidemic. One part of addressing this crisis is continuing our work to support law enforcement, by ensuring they are fully equipped with the necessary tools to stop the inflow of toxic synthetic drugs. With this bipartisan, bicameral legislation, law enforcement will be able to expeditiously schedule new synthetic drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, allowing them to take on international drug traffickers and prevent these dangerous drugs from reaching our communities,” Katko said.
“For too long, our communities have been plagued by a sharp influx in synthetic drugs. We have lost too many people to this epidemic and it’s past time that Congress takes the necessary steps to save lives. This bipartisan legislation provides much-needed help to stop the unlawful importation and distribution of synthetic drugs and will finally give our law enforcement the resources they need to keep our communities safe,” Rice said .
Existing laws prohibits the unauthorized use of certain specific controlled substances. However, illicit drug makers and importers are circumventing those laws by altering a single atom or molecule of a controlled drug to create a new, yet significantly similar substance, which has not yet been outlawed. This allows them to make, market and move substances – often originally imported from China or Mexico – that are intended to have the same effect as controlled drugs outside the reach of existing law. Under the current drug scheduling system, uncontrolled substances must first be subject to a time-consuming analysis before being permanently regulated or outlawed. 
The legislation allows substances to be temporarily or permanently added to a new category of controlled substances, known as Schedule A, if their chemical structure is substantially similar to an existing controlled substance and they are expected to have the same or greater effect on the human body. This will allow for a more rapid control of drugs designed to be used in the same illicit manner as already-regulated or outlawed drugs. The legislation applies existing criminal penalties for manufacturers, importers and exporters of Schedule A substances. The bill also includes provisions to ensure that legitimate research on substances placed on Schedule A can still be undertaken.
The legislation is supported by the National Association of Police Organizations, the National District Attorneys Association and the National Sheriff’s Association.
Stop the Importation and Manufacturing of Synthetic Analogues (SIMSA) Act