Amy in the News
Klobuchar Urges Passage of Bipartisan Synthetic Drug Bills
February 15, 2012
I come to the floor today to join my colleague, Senator Grassley of Iowa. I thank him for his remarks. I think you can tell this is an important issue, also one that's bipartisan. As he pointed out with the vote on the House side, that this was a bipartisan issue over there, it was bipartisan on our Judiciary Committee, and we simply need to allow for a debate and a vote in a timely manner on these bills.
I also know that Senator Chuck Schumer from New York will be joining us, another senior member of the Committee. We are all three on the Judiciary Committee with Senator Grassley being the ranking Republican on the committee. So we have much support for this bill, and today I just want to take a few minutes to add to Senator Grassley's comments about the growing threat to people of all ages, but particularly to our young people of the dangerous synthetic drugs that are becoming, sadly, more and more common in our communities.
There have been reports from states around the country, Mr. President, of people acting violently while under the influence of these drugs, leading to deaths or injuries to themselves or to others.
While taking these drugs people can experience elevated heart rates and blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures, and extreme agitation. They are very dangerous.
And these synthetic drugs have really exploded as an issue in recent years. Until 2006, I was the county concern attorney for Hennepin County, Minnesota's largest county, actually about a fourth of the state in terms of population. During that time that was not two words I heard, synthetic drugs. We were focused on crack, focused on codeine, on methamphetamine, and working on laws to contain that, but synthetic drugs was not something we talked about, and it's an example how quickly this type of drug has come on the scene.
Poison control centers and emergency rooms from across the United States are reporting dramatic increases in the number of calls and visits related to synthetic drugs.
In 2011, poison control centers across America received more than 13,000 calls about synthetic drugs. Think about that. You know what the number was in 2010, just the year before, Mr. President? Three hundred. 3,200 in 2010, 13,000 in 2011. In Minnesota, there were a total of 392 calls to poison control relating to synthetic drugs in 2011, compared to just 107 in 2010. So you're seeing a four times increase in our state and across the country in terms of the rise of this drug.
A recent report by the National Institutes of Health showed that one in nine high school seniors admitted to using synthetic marijuana during the past year. So this is clearly a rapidly growing problem.
This all hit home in my state with the tragic death of 19-year-old Trevor Robinson in Blaine, Minnesota. He overdosed on a synthetic hallucinogen known as 2C-E.
And another man is thought to have shot himself under the influence of synthetic drugs.
I can only imagine the pain and anguish their family and friends must feel. It is heartbreaking.
To me this is a life and death issue, and we can't pretend it's not happening. It's a new type of drug, a dangerous type of drug, and we have to act accordingly.
We have begun to take action, both on the state and federal level, and we are making progress on a few fronts. I introduced a bill which would add 2C-E, the drug that killed the young man in my state, and similar drugs, to banned substances so they will be treated in the same way as heroin.
I am co-sponsor of the bill Senator Grassley referenced, and Senator Schumer has a bill. Basically, one bans the bath salts, one is focused on synthetic marijuana, and my bill is on the synthetic Hollywood Hal use that generals.
Both passed in Judiciary Committee without opposition, and a similar bill has passed the House with a very strong vote. Unfortunately, as Senator Grassley also mentioned, a hold has been placed on all three of the Senate bills by one Senator. That is extremely unfortunate.
These drugs can kill. And if we don't take action, they are going to become more and more prevalent and put more and more people at risk. We cannot wait around and let these important bills languish in procedural gridlock, especially because of just one Senator.
So we're going to keep fighting here in the senate until those laws get passed. We have seen in Minnesota with the tragic story of Trevor Robinson what these drugs can do, and I for one don't want to see it happen again -- not in my state, not anywhere in the country.
I understand the Senator is holding these bills is genuine -- has genuine and philosophical opposition, and he deserves to be heard on his objections.
My suggestion is that we come to an agreement so we can have a period of debate on these bills, a simple period of debate. This should not be a week-long debate. We can take the floor and speak to this issue, and he can speak as long as he likes. We are not asking him to change his position, we want him to be heard, but we simply want to have a period of debate and then a vote. That is what the Senate should be about.
Luckily, the Drug Enforcement Administration is taking its own action and has temporarily banned some synthetic drugs, but most of the substances in these bills have not been banned, including all of the substances in my bill.
And on the state level, roughly 40 states have banned some synthetic drugs, but that means that some drugs have not been banned, and some only ban certain types. So people can go to other states to buy them legally or buy them on the internet.
That's one of the reasons that we need this federal law. Also, local law enforcement needs a strong ally in the federal authorities as they try to turn the tide against synthetic drug. Sadly, many of these drug instances that I've seen in our state with synthetic drugs involve more rural communities. Towns that may not have the ability to call in a bunch of lab technicians and experts to be able to testify about what type of synthetic drug it is. That's why, for those sake of that law enforcement community, it is important that we get it on that federal list and that we also make it very clear that it's banned. Passing a federal law will help create a partnership that will send a strong message that we need to eradicate these substances.
I do think we have made progress simply by raising awareness of this issue, which I believe will lead to better education efforts, more vigilance by parents, and more attention by law enforcement. And now that the DEA has become more familiar with these substances, it will be better equipped to combat the problem.
But the fact remains that the most important thing we can do on the federal level is to pass these three bills that have already been approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee. These bills won't solve the problem overnight, but they are the first step we need to take, and we need to do it now.
Before we lose more kids, before these drugs spread any further, let's pass these bills.
As I mentioned, it is estimated that one in nine high school seniors has tried synthetic marijuana. I don't want to wake up a year from now and read that it has increased to one in seven or one in five.
So let's have a debate, let's hear what the objections are, and then let's pass these bills. I really think we can save lives. While there is still time to catch up, we should be doing everything we can to address these problems.
So I want to thank my colleagues, Senator Grassley, who has already spoken, the Senator from Iowar, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Chuck Schumer from New York, who is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. We are doing this as a team. We think it's very important that you, Mr. President, and the rest of the Senate has the opportunity to vote on these bills, has the opportunity to debate them. So we hope that we can achieve this goal procedurally so we can move forward in the way we're supposed to. Thank you, Mr. President.
I yield the floor.
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