The use of synthetic designer drugs is on the rise especially among young Americans, this could lead to more cases of overdoses and deaths, warned the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The DEA has been cracking down on synthetic drugs since they began gaining popularity in 2010. But because each newly designed drug needs to be separately banned through a "clunky and cumbersome" process, the problem continues to spiral, DEA head Chuck Rosenberg told a U.S. Senate committee.
‘More than 11 million people in the US, especially young Americans illegally consume prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes every year.’
"For every one substance we've controlled, legislatively or administratively, there are 11 more out there that are uncontrolled. We're playing catch-up, and we need your help," said Rosenberg.
Cannabinoids are the commonly used designer drugs in the United States. Cannabinoids mimic marijuana, so-called 'bath salts' that have effects similar to cocaine and methamphetamine and synthetic opioids including counterfeit painkillers.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, said, "To me, it's like Zika, and there's a lot of effort going on now to speed up research. Here, we've got to speed up the ability to enforce."
Feinstein suggested creating a committee to decide how to classify new synthetic drugs as they appear on the market.
There has been an alarming rise in illicit use of fentanyl, which a medical examiner recently identified as the drug that killed pop star Prince.
More than 11 million people illegally consume prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes each year. Overdoses are likely to increase as fentanyl is introduced to that market, according to Rosenberg.
Most people first develop an addiction to prescription drugs, and then turn to fentanyl because it is cheaper. Fentanyl has a much higher potential for abuse and overdose.
Michael Botticelli, the Obama administration's top drug policy adviser, said that some illicit fentanyl distributors disguise the opiate as a prescription drug.
Botticelli said, "The administration supports legislation that would broaden prosecutors' ability to cite sales strategies as evidence when prosecuting synthetic drug manufacturers, especially manufacturers who claim their drugs are not intended for human consumption but clearly market them as such."
US President Brack Obama asked Congress for $1.1 billion in new funding over two years to expand treatment for users of heroin and prescription painkillers.