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New synthetic drugs targeted

ST. PAUL — Minnesota representatives recently sent a strong message against synthetic drugs, unanimously passing a bill to give a state agency more authority over them.

“If you are not seeing this in your community, it is because you are not looking hard enough,” Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, told fellow lawmakers.

The bill that passed 130-0 now moves to the Senate. The Legislature returns to work this week after its Easter/Passover break.

While his community has gained the most publicity about synthetic drugs, Simonson said that the problems are seen across the state.

The use of synthetic drugs “continues to be a problem, especially among young people and at colleges,” he said.

The drugs, which often are designed to mimic illegal drugs, are sold under a variety of names, ranging from K2 to spice. Some are called bath salts.

Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who also is a Cottage Grove police officer, served on a special legislative panel that looked at ways to fight synthetic drug issue. Schoen said the biggest change that came from the legislators’ work was expanding the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy’s ability to stop a business from selling a product that is considered a synthetic drug.

“That’s a big change; they don’t need to wait for legislative action,” Schoen said. “The problem that we’ve had is the ability to react to something.”

Medical and law enforcement officials say synthetic drugs are just as dangerous as the better-known ones.

Officials in cities across the state have worked for years to shut down retail shops that legally sold synthetic drugs under other names.

The bill expands the definition of “drugs” in state law to encompass synthetic drugs. It also gives the state Pharmacy Board authority to order stores to stop selling the drugs.

Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, said she is glad the state would hold people who sell the drugs accountable.

“People who sells these drugs ... know they are selling very dangerous drugs,” Lohmer said.

Scott Wente contributed to this story.