La. bans synthetic drug

Advocate photo by KIMBERLY VETTER -- This synthetic drug - called 25-I, Smiles or N-Bomb - has been linked to five deaths nationwide, including one in Louisiana. As a result, State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein signed an emergency rule Friday making the drug illegal. Show caption
Advocate photo by KIMBERLY VETTER -- This synthetic drug - called 25-I, Smiles or N-Bomb - has been linked to five deaths nationwide, including one in Louisiana. As a result, State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein signed an emergency rule Friday making the drug illegal.

Louisiana on Friday became the second state in the nation to ban a synthetic drug blamed for the deaths of five people nationwide, including a man attending the Voodoo Music Festival in New Orleans.

State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein signed an emergency rule Friday morning that added 25-I, also called Smiles or N-Bomb, to the state’s Controlled Dangerous Substance Act.

Greenstein was given the authority to add new drugs to the act during the last legislative session. The substances are required to have a high potential for abuse, have no accepted medical use in the United States and have no means of being safely used under medical supervision.

Friday was the first time Greenstein used his new authority and put the emergency rule into action.

“We are taking swift action to make 25-I illegal and get it off the streets,” Greenstein said at a news conference. “We also are taking all steps available to find and punish those distributing it so we can keep our state safe.”

Similar to a synthetic drug sold as bath salts and made illegal in Louisiana two years ago following several deaths, 25-I can cause brain hemorrhaging, seizures, hallucinations, confusion, paranoia, fear and panic, Greenstein said.

An Arkansas man died last week in New Orleans after overdosing on the drug at the Voodoo Music Festival, Greenstein said. Four other deaths have occurred in Minnesota, North Dakota, California and North Carolina.

Rebecca Nugent, the drug section supervisor for the State Crime Lab, said 25-I, which has the chemical composition of 25I-NBOMe, is commonly manufactured in China and India, and is sold in powder and liquid forms online.

She said the first time she saw the drug was in May after a woman received a sample of 25-I from an online store. At that time, Nugent said she did not know the drug was deadly.

A few months later, the Louisiana Poison Center started receiving calls related to 25-I, Greenstein said.

The center has received two calls during the past three months, but health officials suspect the center has gotten more since it’s difficult to pinpoint what type of drug is responsible for a drug overdose without advanced lab analysis.

Greenstein said he decided to invoke an emergency rule to outlaw the drug after the man died from using 25-I in New Orleans.

The rule adds 25-I to the state’s list of Schedule I drugs, which includes heroin, LSD and Ecstasy. Anyone found possessing, manufacturing or distributing 25-I is subject to arrest and could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The rule also makes Louisiana the only state in the nation, other than Virginia, to ban the product.

State Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, who asked his staff last week to craft a bill criminalizing 25-I, said at Friday’s news conference that he appreciates the secretary “invoking his authority in issuing this emergency order.”

“While criminalizing certain drugs won’t entirely curtail their use, it will help, if in no other way, than by raising awareness of the dangers inherent in the use of these compounds,” Pearson said, adding that he will proceed with authoring a bill in the Legislature’s 2013 regular session that will ensure that drugs such as 25-I are illegal.

Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, medical director of DHH’s Office of Behavioral Health, said in a news release about the emergency rule that laws alone are not enough.

“Parents must sit down today with their children and have a very honest and serious discussion about the consequences these drugs, and all illegal drugs, have, not just the physical and psychological consequences, but now, the legal consequences,” she said. “We need young people to understand that they can no longer afford not to know.”

For information about 25-I or other illicit drugs, call the Louisiana Poison Center at (800) 222-1222.