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Painkiller Pushers Using Chemistry To Skirt Opioid Laws

Opioid Pills. Opioid epidemic and drug abuse concept. Different tablets, pills, capsule on a pink background. Heap mix therapy drugs. (ShutterStock/Iryna Imago)Opioid Pills. Opioid epidemic and drug abuse concept. Different tablets, pills, capsule on a pink background. Heap mix therapy drugs. (ShutterStock/Iryna Imago)

Drug pushers are adapting to the war on opioids by chemically altering painkillers to avoid legal consequences, but these designer drugs can help dealers avoid criminal charges and pose a danger to the health of users.

In Tennessee, law enforcement officials are seeing these new counterfeit prescription drugs known as “analogues” and are having trouble keeping up with the changes, according to TheTennessean.

Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Dangerous Drug Task Force, called the situation a “nightmare.”

“They can shift an oxygen molecule here or a hydrogen group over there and that slightest shift affects the legality of it,” Farmer said.

Synthetic opioids have yet to be added to the state’s list of controlled substances, creating a gray area for police and prosecutors. The loophole has encouraged dealers to start producing their own opioids on a mass scale.

“We’ve worked cases where we’ve taken off pill presses where they can make 5,000 pills an hour,” said T.J. Jordan, assistant director at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

A similar incident occurred with synthetic marijuana in New York state in 2012. The analogue formula, often referred to as “K2” or “potpourri,” was legal to sell over the counter before Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning the sale and possession of synthetic cannabis.

However, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced last Wednesday that it was moving the drug Syndros to the schedule II list, meaning it can be used medically if prescribed by a doctor. Syndros is a form of synthetic THC that comes in liquid form. Real marijuana will continue to be classified as a schedule I controlled substance, on the same level as ecstasy and heroin.

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