AG and mayor host roundtable with law enforcement and public health officials to coordinate strategies against dangerous designer drugs; call for community help to identify stores selling designer drugs
Building on his office's cutting edge work to stop the sale of so-called designer drugs, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman convened a roundtable meeting Monday with Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto and local health professionals to tackle the growing scourge of designer drugs. Schneiderman and Dyster also asked the public for help in stopping the spread of designer drugs - urging residents to report stores that sell the drugs to authorities, and urging responsible business owners not to offer the drugs for sale.
"Communities in Niagara Falls and across the state are being poisoned by designer drugs," Schneiderman said. "My office is here to work together with state and local officials, responsible business owners and concerned community members to stop this scourge. My office has obtained court order permanently barring more than 20 retailers across the state from selling dangerous, mislabeled designer drugs, and we will continue to crack down for as long as it takes to get these drugs off of store shelves, and off of websites selling to New Yorkers."
The roundtable meeting followed an announcement last week that the attorney general's office had filed lawsuits against Erie County-based Surrealistic Sensations, and Rockland County-based Liquid Shop (aka Liquid Glass Shop), for allegedly selling hallucinogenic and psychotropic drugs and street drug alternatives. These substances, known as "designer drugs," promote auditory and visual hallucinations, sedation, euphoria and other street drug effects, but can lead to addiction, psychosis, acute arrhythmia, asphyxiation and even death. In response to the AG's lawsuit, a Bronx County Supreme judge issued a restraining order and demanded Surrealistic Sensations appear in court.
The case against Surrealistic Sensations in Lackawanna grew out of collaboration between the attorney general's office and the Niagara Falls Police Department. Community complaints to the Niagara Falls Police Department about the local proliferation of designer drugs were referred to the attorney general's office. The A.G.'s resulting investigation zeroed in on Surrealistic Sensations, an online retailer and wholesaler of designer drugs. Undercover investigators from the attorney general's office contacted Surrealistic Sensations posing as prospective business people intending to set up a head shop in Niagara Falls and purchased a variety of designer drugs.
Designer drugs have psychoactive effects similar to those of more commonly known street drugs, but they are typically packaged with innocuous labels and graphics to give the misleading impression they are harmless. Designer drugs have contributed to a public health crisis in New York and across the nation. During the summer of 2015, New York experienced a tenfold increase in emergency room visits and poison control center calls over the same period last year as a result of adverse health effects caused by synthetic marijuana. Attempts to stop the spread of designer drugs by outlawing specific chemicals have had limited success.
Schneiderman's office has taken a different approach, stopping the sale of designer drugs by enforcing consumer protection and labeling laws. The initiative, which began in 2012, has successfully removed street drug alternatives and designer drugs from the shelves of numerous head shops across New York. The attorney general's office has filed dozens of lawsuits against head shops that sold designer drugs, which resulted in judges across the state issuing permanent injunctions barring 22 stores from selling these products. The rulings came after the office showed the products were illegal because their contents were not properly labeled, thus violating state and federal laws. Erie County-based Surrealistic Sensations, and Rockland County-based Liquid Shop are subject to temporary restraining order while the case is pending.
"I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for working to address the growing problem of designer drugs in the City of Niagara Falls," Dyster said. "The attorney general can count on my continued support, and the support of the Niagara Falls Police Department, as we fight to keep these dangerous drugs off our streets."
"The Niagara Falls Police Department will continue to work with the Office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to keep dangerous synthetic drugs out of our neighborhoods," DalPorto said. "The recent legal action taken by the attorney general was a result of a tip from the NFPD, and we look forward to continued cooperation between our respective agencies."
Dr. Brian Clemency of Rural/Metro Medical services said, "While opiates continue to be the most common life-threatening overdose seen in Western New York, the increased prevalence of K2 use is extremely troubling. Patients under the influence of K2 may demonstrate severe agitation and psychosis; this poses a danger to the patient as well as first responders that are called to care for the patient."
Anne Constantino, president and CEO of Horizon Health Services, said, "We know that synthetic drugs are dangerous, even deadly. We are concerned that young people are especially vulnerable and are often not aware of the potential consequences of use of these drugs. We support and applaud the AG's efforts to bring this to the attention of our community members and to continue to provide services to those in need in Western New York."
"Any drug use is devastating to the individual, family and community," said Sally Yageric, CPP, Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. "Synthetic drugs are particularly devastating due to their always changing chemical components and general availability. People taking these drugs anticipate a certain high, but often times end up experiencing extreme reactions that land them in the emergency room. Consumption of these substances can be life-threatening, and lead to intense hallucinations, psychotic episodes and suicidal thoughts."
Thomas Artim, M.D., medical director at Northpointe Council Inc., said, "Synthetic cannabinoids 'spice' compounds are not detected by traditional toxicology screens. This makes detection of their use and any subsequent treatment difficult. Therefore, stopping the distribution and sales of these substances is essential in preventing the very serious consequences of their use."
Although federal and state authorities have outlawed certain chemicals that are used in designer drugs, and their analogs, in order to remove these items from commerce, these efforts continue to fall short as the chemists and producers providing the products to bodegas and head shops simply alter formulas and formats to stay ahead of the legislation and the public's notice.
The attorney general's office has obtained an affidavit from a medical expert supporting his efforts to combat these drugs. Dr. Maja Lundborg-Gray of Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown told the attorney general's office patients who have taken these street drug-alternatives are frequently violent and present a definite danger to the public and first responders who care for them.