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Synthetic Drugs

The term "Synthetic," as used in the National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) Annual Report and the National Synthetic Drugs Action Plan, refers to drugs whose origins are not primarily organic, but rather are produced via chemical synthesis.

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According to the National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) Annual Report and the National Synthetic Drugs Action Plan, “synthetic drugs” refers to drugs whose origins are not primarily organic, but rather are produced via chemical synthesis.

Synthetic drugs can be produced commercially by drug manufacturers for valid medical purposes, and are diverted from legal channels or produced illegally in clandestine laboratories for illicit markets worldwide. Chemistry background, laboratory control knowledge, and an educated understanding of the process is generally required to successfully and safely conduct the synthesis.

Synthetic drugs are widely abused in the United States and pose a serious threat to our youth. Some of the most prevalent synthetic drugs of abuse are:

Methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant with serious health implications that include violent behavior, extreme paranoia, and other psychotic episodes. Usually injected or snorted, the drug can also be smoked or ingested orally.

3-4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Commonly referred to as Ecstasy or XTC, MDMA is a psychoactive substance with both stimulant and mild hallucinogenic properties. Most often found in tablet form, although occasionally distributed as a crystalline powder. Taken orally, the health risks include severe hyperthermia, dehydration, and long term learning impairment.

Paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA). PMA is a tablet form amphetamine derivative similar to MDMA (Ecstasy) but more lethal even in smaller doses. More than 50 milligrams may be fatal. PMA producers sometimes use the same imprinted logos on PMA that are used on MDMA tablets in order to market the product as MDMA to users, resulting in fatalities from overdose or mixing of the drug with MDMA.

Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB). GHB is a central nervous system depressant usually sold as an odorless, colorless liquid in spring water bottles or as a powder mixed with beverages and soft drinks, reportedly used in date-rapes.

Gamma Butyrolactone (GBL). Often found in industrial cleaners, GBL is the precursor chemical for the manufacture of GHB. In addition, it has been marketed as a nutritional supplement in health food stores and over the Internet in both powder and capsule form. GBL is synthesized by the body to produce GHB. Ingestion of GBL often causes a severe physical reaction, usually through the violent regurgitation of the fluid. These chemicals increase the effects of alcohol, and can cause respiratory distress, seizures, coma, and death.

Ketamine. A prescription general anesthetic with some physical effects similar to PCP and visual effects of LSD, ketamine is primarily marketed for veterinary use. Sold as both a liquid and a powder, use in humans can cause delirium, amnesia, depression, long-term memory and cognitive difficulties. Due to its disassociative effects, ketamine is reportedly used as a date-rape drug.

Rohypnol. Rohypnol, a sleep aid that has never been manufactured or marketed in the United States, it is still produced in Mexico and Europe and available by prescription in many countries. Capable of producing extreme lethargy and significantly reducing recall capability of the brain; it has been often mentioned in relation to numerous date rapes (though the data do not support the contention that it is widely used for this purpose). Abuse of rohypnol is generally episodic use among teenagers and young adults as an "alcohol extender" and disinhibitory agent, most often in combination with beer.

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD). LSD is an extreme hallucinogen most commonly marketed on blotter paper or in gelcap form. It has been known since the 1960's for its hallucinogenic properties and the adverse psychotic side effects that frequently occur during and after use (flashbacks). It is a clandestinely manufactured crystalline powder reduced to a clear liquid for dosing purposes.

Phencyclidine (PCP). Commonly known as "angel dust," PCP was originally developed as an animal tranquilizer. In both a powder and liquid form, it is almost always smoked by placing it on a marijuana cigarette or regular menthol cigarette, known as a "kool-dip." It is an extremely dangerous substance causing coma, convulsions, and psychotic delusions. Users are known to become extremely violent and aggressive, commonly causing injuries to themselves and others.

OxyContin. OxyContin is a synthetic, opiate, prescription pain medicine often used in the treatment of pain related to cancer and other debilitating conditions. OxyContin contains the drug oxycodone, which is a common drug used in pain relievers such as Percocet and Percodan. However unlike other forms of oxycodone, OxyContin is available in higher dose units, as a time-release formulation. Law enforcement sources have reported an increase in the diversion of OxyContin and other medications containing oxycodone. This increase in illegal use has been especially apparent on the East Coast. The increase in the abuse of OxyContin has led to an increased number of pharmacy robberies and health care fraud incidents.

Precursor Chemicals. Necessary precursors, despite efforts to restrict them, are widely available worldwide. Thirty-four chemicals are listed by federal statute, Section 812 of the Controlled Substances Act, as controlled substances on the Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA) controlled substance schedules.

Source: Office of National Drug Control Policy