The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned on Tuesday that the growing use of synthetic designer drugs especially among young Americans could lead to more cases of overdoses and deaths.
Despite its continued crackdown on the sale and use of synthetic drugs in the country, DEA officials said their efforts are hampered because of the "clunky and cumbersome" process needed to effectively ban each and every new drug that comes out.
During an appearance before a U.S. Senate committee, Chuck Rosenberg, head of the DEA, pointed out that for every drug that the agency is able to administratively or legislatively control, there are about 11 more substances out there that are yet to be controlled.
"We're playing catch-up, and we need your help," Rosenberg told the committee.
Examples of designer drugs commonly sold and use in the U.S. are synthetic cannabinoids, which recreate the effects of marijuana, and "bath salts," which mimic the effects of cocaine. There are also methamphetamines and synthetic opioids, which include counterfeit versions of painkillers.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein from California pushed for the creation of a Senate committee in order to determine an appropriate classification for new synthetic drugs that become available on the market.
Feinstein explained that much like what is being done with Zika research, which requires speedy research, creating a new classification for synthetic drugs has to be determined immediately so that they can be enforced as quickly as possible.
According to Rosenberg, the DEA has monitored a significant increase in the use of a synthetic opioid known as fentanyl. This drug is the same one medical examiners say likely killed the pop superstar Prince.
He said that as many as 11 million Americans illegally use prescription painkillers every year, and that cases of drug overdose in the country are likely to increase with the introduction of fentanyl into the market.
Rooting Out Heroin And Prescription Painkiller Abuse
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama asked Congress to allot $1.1 billion in the budget to fund the expansion of treatments given to heroin and prescription painkiller users over the next two years.
People who become addicted to fentanyl usually start out developing an addiction to prescription medications. However, they tend to switch to fentanyl because it is cheaper compared to prescription drugs. This leads to a higher chance for abusive use of the drug and overdose.
Michael Botticelli, chief drug policy adviser to the Obama administration, said that some distributors of fentanyl even disguise the drug as prescription medication.
He added that the Obama administration supports the creation of new bills that would allow prosecutors to use sales strategies as evidence in court against manufacturers of synthetic drugs.