Cities, including Duluth, cracked down first, when reports of kids snorting, smoking and otherwise misusing the junk started mounting — and the kids started dying.

Now, the federal government and state government have taken up the sometimes-slippery fight against synthetic drugs, substances sold legally as incense, bath salts or other products but used inappropriately to mimic the effects, and dangers, of hard drugs. Makers and sellers have stayed ahead of local ordinances and other measures, sometimes simply by changing a minor ingredient in the products.

They won’t be able to stay ahead of the law much longer if state and federal measures prove as effective as they need to be.

In D.C., U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has been at the forefront of a bipartisan package of bills to ban the harmful, oft-misused chemicals. How could this issue not be bipartisan?

“These new designer drugs are taking lives and tearing apart families in Minnesota and across the country. That’s simply unacceptable,” Klobuchar said in a statement last month. “We must … give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down.”

And in St. Paul, a measure sponsored by Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, was unanimously approved by the Senate this week, making the sale of synthetic drugs or analogs (compounds meant to mimic the effects of the actual drugs) a felony punishable by up to five years in jail or a $10,000 fine or both. The crime now is a gross misdemeanor. How could getting tougher not have passed unanimously?

“These drugs are more akin to meth than marijuana, and have negatively impacted our downtown business area and our local emergency rooms,” Reinert said Monday in a statement.

The crackdown on synthetic drugs certainly has gotten more fierce — and it needed to; kids are dying.