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ACEP Member Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee About Nation's Growing Synthetic Drug Crisis
Jun 7, 2016

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2016/—  Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Dr. Sullivan Smith, an ACEP member, emergency physician and active law enforcement officer from Cookeville, Tennessee, testified about the growing illicit synthetic (chemically enhanced) drug problem in the United States calling the toll these substances have taken on human life and health in America devastating.

“These drugs are readily available, widely used and abused, and growing in popularity,” said Dr. Smith. “People are dying, often in the prime of their lives, because of these drugs.  We must take every possible legal step to control these dangerous drugs.”

Dr. Smith testified on behalf of the American College of Emergency Physicians before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The hearing, “Deadly Synthetic Drugs: The Need to Stay Ahead of the Poison Peddlers” also included Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michael Botticelli, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Chief Cathy Lanier of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Dept., as well as legal and medical experts.  Dr. Smith testified that synthetic drugs:

  • Result in far too many violent acts, injuries, illnesses, trips to emergency departments and deaths across the nation;
  • Create a significant economic burden because of the medical care costs associated with these patients;
  • Change continuously and there is little if any meaningful medical testing available to determine the chemicals in a drug user’s body;
  • Are routinely altered in order to find a more intense high, a better euphoria and a longer duration of the drug’s effect.

Emergency physicians have seen first-hand the devastating effects of the synthetic drug crisis.  According to a recent ACEP poll, more than 95 percent of emergency physicians said that the number of patients they have treated for synthetic drug use had either increased or remained the same in only a few years.  Additionally, nearly 9 in 10 emergency physicians reported seeing violent acts in the past year with 42 percent having been by patients who were using these drugs. Dr. Smith focused much of his testimony on personal stories about patients he has treated and staff they have injured, including a nurse who was beaten so severely with a metal pole used to hang intravenous fluids that he was rendered unconscious.

A problematic loophole for law enforcement is that many of the chemicals in these drugs are often sold legally but labeled “not for human consumption” to mask their intended purpose and to avoid DEA oversight.   Dr. Smith is calling on lawmakers to tighten the law and permit the DEA the authority to control and prohibit the importation, possession and use of these hazardous drugs.

“The need for action to effectively address the growing threat to our nation posed by these drugs is absolute, critical and immediate,” said Dr. Smith.  “The landscape of the synthetic drug problem is changing rapidly and outpaces the ability of legislation to keep up as it exists today.” 

ACEP supports H.R 3537 “Synthetic Drug Control Act,” which was introduced last fall by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). If enacted, the law will add more than 200 known synthetic drugs to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and facilitate federal prosecution of the manufacturers, distributors and sellers of synthetic drugs. 

To view the entire hearing or read a transcript go to http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/deadly-synthetic-drugs-the-need-to-stay-ahead-of-the-poison-peddlers.

ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies. 

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For further information: Mike Baldyga | mbaldyga@acep.org | 202-370-9288