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Lawmaker: Have pharmacy board lead synthetic-drug fight

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PHOENIX – Arizona could respond faster when street chemists alter the components of synthetic drugs such as bath salts by empowering the Arizona Board of Pharmacy to ban ingredients, a state lawmaker said Tuesday.

Sen. Linda Gray, R–Phoenix, who authored legislation to make the change, noted that makers of bath salts already have adjusted to a state law that took effect in February, replacing substances made illegal under that measure.

“Our youth walk into a store and are told these new drugs are legal, and they think the drug can’t be that bad since it’s on a store shelf,” she said.

Supporters held a news conference to promote the the legislation after the measure, which Gray added as a strike–everything amendment to a bill that had passed the House, was rejected by the Senate Rules Committee on Monday. The committee reversed itself Wednesday and advanced the measure.

Attorney General Tom Horne said having the Legislature addressing such changes means a slower state response to the problem.

“It’s a loophole in the law, and the way to close the loophole is to give the pharmacy board the ability to react quickly to changing circumstances,” Horne said.

Members of the pharmacy board and Arizona Department of Public Safety would be in charge of adjusting the list of illegal drugs as they hit the market, according to Jeff Gray, a legislative liaison for the Arizona Pharmacy Alliance. These drugs would then be banned from the shelves of smoke shops and convenience stores and would be available only through pharmacies.

“The likelihood of someone writing a prescription for one of these substances is virtually none,” he said. “They don’t serve any medical purpose.”

John Bennett, police chief in Paradise Valley, said the change is needed because more young people are experimenting with synthetic drugs every day.

“We cannot wait until next year to get this bill passed,” he said. “If this goes another year, more youth will be getting hurt and unbeknownst to them because they think these drugs are OK to use because they’re being sold in stores.”

Linda Gray said synthetic drugs are far more addictive and less predictable than drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. Those under the influence of these substances can suffer from paranoia, hyperactivity, suicidal thoughts, depression, high temperatures and high blood pressure.

“It creates a super-strength danger,” she said.