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Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
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Keeping Communities Safe


Synthetic Drugs

In recent years, synthetic drug use has grown at an alarming rate. In response to the growing number of injuries and fatalities related to synthetic drugs, Attorney General Madigan convened an Emergency Summit on Synthetic Drugs in Springfield to raise awareness and strategize ways to fight the drug and protect Illinois communities. Experts from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Southern Illinois Enforcement Group, and Illinois Poison Control Center presented information to a large group of attendees including law enforcement, prosecutors, medical personnel, and educators.

Continuing these efforts, Attorney General Madigan convened an inter-state summit with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and law enforcement leaders from both states to forge coordinated, inter-state strategies to better protect communities in Illinois and Indiana from synthetic drugs. Attorney General Madigan’s Office also held two teleconferences in September 2012 to provide information from medical experts and law enforcement to parents and educators about the dangers of synthetic drugs. The teleconferences included an overview of synthetic drugs, applicable laws and ongoing efforts by local law enforcement.

The Attorney General’s Office is also cracking down on the retail sale of synthetic drugs. To send a clear message that these drugs are illegal and have no place being sold in retail establishments, Madigan launched “Operation Smoked Out,” a statewide initiative aimed at removing synthetic drugs from Illinois retail stores.

In addition, Attorney General Madigan drafted legislation, now law, to amend the Illinois Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act to address the fact that synthetic drugs have been packaged with misleading labels designed to give the impression that the products are legal and “not intended for human consumption.” The new law defines a “synthetic drug product” as any product containing a controlled substance not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and significantly increases the penalty for selling or possessing with intent to distribute any drug that is misleadingly labeled.

Emergency Summit on Synthetic Drugs Information and Resources PDF document

Legal Notice: Illegal Drugs Marketed as “Incense,” “Potpourri” and “Bath Salts” PDF document


Synthetic Drugs: What You Need to Know

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs are chemically laced substances akin to marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine that have been sold over the counter at convenience stores, gas stations and tobacco shops throughout Illinois.

Based on their chemical make-up, these drugs are commonly divided into two categories:

  • Cannabinoids
    Popularly known as K2 or Spice, cannabinoids contain chemical compounds designed to mimic the effects of THC.

  • Cathinones
    Often known as “bath salts,” cathinones contain chemical compounds to mimic the effects of cocaine or meth.

Though the drugs’ packaging states the products are not intended for human consumption, their design, labeling and marketing clearly allude to the product being smoked and inhaled.

Why Are They So Dangerous?

One reason that synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous is that buyers don’t know what chemicals they are ingesting. Individual products can contain a vast range of different chemical formulations and potencies, some of which can be two to 500 times stronger than THC.

How Common Is Synthetic Drug Abuse?

In 2010, poison control centers received 302 calls about bath salts, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In 2011, poison control centers received more than 5,600 reports of bath salt abuse. In 2012, this number dropped to 2,654. Synthetic marijuana use has also decreased slightly. In 2010, there were more than 2,900 calls from around the country to poison control centers, and in 2011, there were more than 5,700. In 2012, this figure dipped to 5,200.

Why Aren’t These Drugs Illegal?

Though states, including Illinois, have implemented bans on specific formulas of synthetic marijuana and bath salts, drug makers have tried to sidestep these regulations. Manufacturers have adapted by replacing the strain of a banned synthetic cannabinoid or cathinone with a newer version that is not yet on the market and not yet known to authorities. This modification process poses further risk to its users, who are unaware of the risks and reactions new chemicals may cause.


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