Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, along with Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), today urged the passage of a bipartisan package of bills that would ban dangerous synthetic drugs. In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate with Senators Grassley and Schumer, Klobuchar called on all of her colleagues to immediately clear the way for the package of bills to be passed. Klobuchar’s bill would ban the harmful drug 2C-E, which led to the death of a Minnesota teenager and hospitalized several others. Klobuchar has also cosponsored two additional bills banning harmful chemicals commonly found in bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

“These new designer drugs are taking lives and tearing apart families in Minnesota and across the country, and yet many of these dangerous substances can still be purchased legally because the Senate has been prevented from moving forward with this legislation. That’s simply unacceptable,” Klobuchar said.“We must pass this legislation now to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on synthetic drugs before they put more lives in danger.”

Klobuchar, Grassley, and Schumer have led the effort in the U.S. Senate to ban harmful chemicals in synthetic drugs that have taken lives and injured many others. Klobuchar’s legislation, the Combating Designer Drugs Act of 2011, bans the substance known as 2C-E, a synthetic hallucinogen, and eight other similar substances.  Klobuchar introduced the legislation this past March after a Minnesota teenager died and ten others were hospitalized due to an overdose of 2C-E.

In September of last year, Klobuchar hosted a roundtable on synthetic drugs with U.S. Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske and Minnesota law enforcement leaders. The discussion focused on efforts to curb the sale and use of dangerous synthetic drugs and highlighted how federal, state, and local leaders can work together to solve the problem. The following week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced its decision to ban three chemicals commonly found in synthetic drugs known as bath salts.

Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, which has jurisdiction over issues relating to drug control policy, and she has been a leader in strengthening drug safety standards to protect consumers.

The full text of Klobuchar’s prepared remarks is below.

Mr. President, I come to the floor today to join my colleagues, Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Chuck Schumer, another senior member of the Committee, to talk about a new and growing threat to people of all ages, but particularly to our young people – the dangerous synthetic drugs that are becoming more and more common in our communities.

There have been reports from states around the country of people acting violently while under the influence of these drugs, leading to deaths or injuries to themselves and others.

While taking these drugs people can experience elevated heart rates and blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures and extreme agitation.   They are incredibly dangerous.

And these synthetic drugs have really exploded as an issue in recent years.

Until 2006, I was the County Attorney in Hennepin County,  Minnesota.  It’s the largest county in the state, and includes the city of Minneapolis.  During my time as County Attorney, synthetic drugs were not something we were concerned about. But times have changed, and quickly.

Poison control centers and emergency rooms across the U.S. 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—compared to about 3,200 in 2010.  In Minnesota there was a total of 392 calls to poison control relating to synthetic drugs in 2011, compared to just 107 in 2010.

And 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 a 19 year old man, Trevor Robinson, in Blaine, Minnesota, who overdosed on a synthetic hallucinogen known as 2C-E last year. 

And another young man is thought to have shot himself in Minnesota later in the year while under the influence of synthetic drugs.

I can only imagine the pain and anguish that family and friends of these Minnesotans must feel.  It is just heartbreaking.

So to me this is really a life and death issue, and one we must confront.

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 a young man in my state, and similar drugs, to the list of banned substances, so that they will be treated in the same manner as other banned drugs like heroin.

I am also a co-sponsor of two bills authored by Senators Grassley and Schumer that seek to ban other types of dangerous synthetic drugs.

All three of these bills passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in July without opposition, and similar legislation has already passed the House with a very strong vote.  Unfortunately, I understand that a hold has been placed on all three of the Senate bills by one Senator and 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 are going to keep fighting here in the Senate until these 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, and not anywhere in the country.

I understand that the Senator who is holding these bills is genuine and philosophical in his opposition, and he deserves to be heard on his objections. 

My suggestion is that we come to an agreement so that we can have a period of debate on these bills.  He can take the floor and speak to this issue for as long as he would like, but then let’s have a vote.  We can’t wait any longer. 

Luckily the the Drug Enforcement Administration, is taking action on its own, 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, including Minnesota where a major law regarding synthetic drugs took effect in July.

But that means that some states have not banned any of these drugs yet, and some have only banned 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 we need a federal law.  Also, local law enforcement needs a strong ally in the federal authorities as they try to turn the tide against these synthetic drugs.  Passing a federal law will help create that partnership and will send a strong message that we need to eradicate these substances.

I do think we have made progress simply by raising the 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 pot.  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.

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, let’s do everything we can do to address this problem.

It’s time to act.

I want to thank my colleagues, Senator Schumer and Senator Grassley. I know they are as committed as I am to getting these bills enacted.