FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Authorities in northwestern Alabama say they've been arresting more people suspected of using synthetic drugs.
Synthetic drugs appear to be the latest fad, Lawrence County Drug Task Force Director Amard Martin told the TimesDaily of Florence. Drug Enforcement Administration official Rusty Payne added that the drugs can be manufactured abroad and are unregulated.
"This is the new frontier, and it doesn't seem to be going away," Payne said. "Prescription pills drug abuse is the No. 1 fastest drug problem in the U.S. But we have a meth problem and a synthetic drug problem. These labs are shipping these synthetic drugs out as fast as they can."
Many states have different laws governing the use of certain chemicals, Payne said. This makes it difficult to prosecute people who sell or use synthetic drugs because seemingly minor changes to their chemical composition can put drugs that were once outlawed in a legal gray area until legislation is passed banning use of the replacement chemical.
"These people who are making the drugs are smart, they know what they're doing and how to get around these laws," said Tim Glover, director of the Lauderdale County Drug Task Force.
Synthetic drugs are usually marketed as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, potpourri, incense or plant food and are typically smoked or inhaled.
"There's nothing natural about them," Payne said. "It's nothing but poison."
People who abuse synthetic drugs have been subject to a variety of side effects, such as vomiting, hallucinations, elevated blood pressure, loss of consciousness and seizures, authorities have said.
"These drugs are very dangerous," said Curtis Burns, director of the Colbert County Drug Task Force. "There are reports coming out all the time about people using these synthetic drugs and having some serious medical problems and major health issues."
Although Alabama law bans businesses from selling the drugs, authorities say users typically find them on the Internet. Officials have said the drugs appear to be especially popular among teens and young adults.