Local mother campaigns for national ban on synthetic drugs

While U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Bowling Green has blocked efforts to pass a law giving law enforcement in America “teeth” to deal with synthetic drugs, a Bowling Green mother, Amy Stillwell, is taking up the torch to see HR 1254 approved by the U.S. Senate and placed on President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.

It’s a David vs. Goliath struggle, Stillwell admits, but one to which she is committed.

Stillwell still has nightmares about the time her now 19-year-old daughter, Ashley, took one hit off a synthetic drug and landed in the emergency room last year.

Ashley Stillwell was alive but unable to move for about 31⁄2 hours after smoking 7H. As she lay unable to move at a friend’s house, the people she was with discussed throwing her body into the Barren River. Given her state at the time, if that had happened, she would have likely drowned.

Ashley is a 2011 Warren East High School graduate and now a sophomore at Western Kentucky University studying psychology, sociology and criminology. She is an outspoken critic of synthetic drugs based on her personal experiences.

Several hours after Ashley took the synthetic drug, she remained lethargic, vomited and when she took a shower, she hit her head after she slipped and fell, her mother said.

“All of the synthetics have no quality control,” Amy Stillwell said. “They drug-tested her (Ashley) and nothing showed up.”

Synthetic drugs scare the Bowling Green mother and daughter. They have had speaking engagements all over southcentral Kentucky to warn others about the drugs.

Kentucky legislation approved this year has shut down many avenues for people to buy the drugs locally. However, a federal law could place a nationwide ban on the products and stop overseas manufacturers from sending the drugs into the country.

Obama is on board with the idea.

“Synthetic drugs like Spice, K2 and ‘bath salts’ are a serious threat to the health and safety of young people throughout America,” White House spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm said in an email to the Daily News. “The emergence of these synthetic drugs demands an aggressive response. As a result, the (Drug Enforcement Administration) has used its emergency scheduling authority to temporarily ban the sale of the chemicals used to manufacture synthetic drugs – and we support Congressional action to make permanent the ban on these dangerous drugs,” the email said.

Sen. Paul maintains that enforcement of drug laws should be a state or local issue, according to an email from Moira Bagley, Paul’s communications director in Washington.

“Paul raised objections to the legislation for a couple reasons. First, law enforcement of most drug laws can and should be local and state issues. As you may know, Kentucky has acted and made these substances illegal already,” Bagley said.

“Second, federal mandatory minimum sentences are harmful to the idea of true justice, and have been shown to be discriminatory against minorities (the Congressional Black Caucus has come out in opposition, too) as well as decrease the need for discretion and judges in general. It’s also worth mentioning that the (Obama) administration has the legal authority to make drugs Schedule 1 narcotics without Congress, as has been done before,” she said.

Paul told the Daily News in February that he opposed synthetic drug legislation because the federal penalties for drug law violations are “disproportionate” to the crime, and federal sentencing requirements don’t allow room for judicial discretion in sentencing.

“The main reason we are opposing this is someone could be kept in prison for 20 years,” Paul said in February. However, Paul also cites in Dec. 14 letter to two other senators the proliferation of Islam in the prison system among his arguments against federal measures to ban the substances.

HR 1254, also known as the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to a Sept. 30 letter to U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, from Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice. The letter, Rosholm said, outlines the DOJ’s position on the federal legislation.

HR 1254 has passed the House but not the Senate. S3187, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration measure that the Senate attached to HR 1254 in a parliamentary maneuver, now awaits House passage. When the two legislative bodies can’t agree, bills often end up in conference committees to work out the sticking points.

Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said the most recent state legislation approved, House Bill 481, targeted two groups of synthetic drugs – synthetic cannibinoids and synthetic cathinones. The first is what might be referred to as a “poor man’s” marijuana, less expensive in price but a very potent high. The second is a plant from Africa that mimics the kick of methamphetamine, complete with hallucinations.

“For now, the bill is doing its intent, but we have to stay vigilant,” Ingram said.

Bowling Green’s State Rep. Jody Richards, a Democrat who co-sponsored the state legislation, said he’s received “fantastic” feedback since the bill was signed into law April 11. “This gives law enforcement another tool,” Richards said. Some of the feedback has come from teens, the manufacturers’ target for the drugs, he said.

“They tell me how potent these drugs are,” Richards said. “These really cause people to do crazy things, want to hurt themselves.”

Richards said the state legislation closes loopholes synthetic drug manufacturers try to jump through.

“I think this is a really good law and the intent is right. This is a big issue in our community,” Richards said.

Tommy Loving, director of the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force, said a local ordinance approved by Warren County Fiscal Court eventually cut off the sale of synthetic drugs here.

“It appears we have gained a voluntary compliance on selling it in Bowling Green,” Loving said. Synthetic drugs are made from chemicals sprayed on plant material or induced into a crystallized form, he explained.

“Some communities say it (the new state law) is effective,” Ingram said. Two days after the new Kentucky law took effect, a large synthetic drug bust was successfully launched in Hopkinsville, he said.

Amy Stillwell said she is grateful to the Kentucky officials who banded together to get the state legislation approved. “I could never thank them all enough for what they have done for us,” she said. As to Kentucky’s junior U.S. senator Paul, she’s not near as laudatory.

“It (HR 1254) would have passed if Rand Paul hadn’t put a hold on it,” she said.

Synthetic drugs are killing children, she added. “We need a federal law to prevent things from coming in from other countries.”

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