COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A new rule took effect Thursday in Ohio that bans the sale and use of two chemicals drug dealers have used to pass off harmful synthetic drugs as legal substances.
The compounds — PB-22 and 5F-PB-22 and their variations — are often sprayed on plant materials to mimic the effects of marijuana. They are typically sold in head shops and marketed as herbal incense products.
Ohio officials are hoping the new rule will help stymie illegal-drug makers who tweaked the compounds to produce synthetic drugs, which can have effects similar to, but longer-lasting than, amphetamines. Effects of the drugs include paranoia, erratic behavior, lethargy and slurred speech.
“These substances pose a serious threat to public safety and have no medicinal value,” State Pharmacy Board Executive Director Kyle Parker said in a statement announcing the rule Thursday.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration temporarily classified the compounds as illegal in February, but the state ban is permanent. The rule classifies the two chemical compounds as controlled substances.
Authorities say the compounds appeared after a 2012 law went into effect banning all synthetic drugs at the time. Attorney General Mike DeWine said in an interview Thursday that the makers of synthetic drugs then apparently stayed one step ahead of the law, altering their formulas with the now-illegal chemicals.
The new rule comes as the state works to combat drug abuse. Overdose drug deaths have been the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio since 2007, surpassing car crashes. Many of those deaths are from painkillers and heroin.
DeWine wants the authority to ban synthetic drugs without having to ask for legislation each time a new substance begins routinely arriving at the state’s crime lab.
His office is working on a bill that would give the attorney general the power to temporarily ban any compound believed to be an imminent hazard to public safety. The bans would last for at least a year while administrative rules or legislation could proceed to determine whether the compounds should be permanently outlawed.
“Frankly, we’ve got to speed up this process,” DeWine said in a telephone interview.
DeWine said the use of synthetic drugs is hard to track.
“Is it as big of a problem as heroin? No. Is it as big as a problem as prescription drugs? Probably not,” DeWine said. “But it’s a problem and it has to be dealt with.”