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U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who chairs the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, called synthetic drugs “diabolical” at a hearing on the substances Wednesday. Senator Feinstein is co-sponsor of the Protecting Our Youth from Dangerous Synthetic Drugs Act.

Experts and senators speaking at the hearing said synthetic drugs have resulted in thousands of calls to poison control centers, a growing number of visits to the emergency room, and some deaths, The Hill reports. Synthetic drug makers are quickly changing their products, such as synthetic marijuana, bath salts and Molly, to stay one step ahead of regulators, they said. “A change of a molecule or two to a banned drug is sometimes enough to make a new and legal alternative. This is a difficult problem without an easy solution,” Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who co-chairs the caucus, said in a statement.

There are currently as many as 200 brands of synthetic drugs available, according to Joseph Rannazzisi, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control. “We just need to catch up,” he said. “We’re so far behind.”

Bringing criminal cases against synthetic drug makers is difficult, because many brands are marketed as other products, and have labels stating they are not meant for human consumption, said Timothy Heaphy, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.

Under Senator Feinstein’s bill, it would be illegal to import synthetic drugs intended for human use. The bill would direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and, if necessary, amend federal sentencing guidelines for violations involving synthetic drugs.


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