Gov. Bill Haslam takes part in a signing ceremony at Tennessee High. David Grace photo.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Data from police, drug treatment centers and hospitals shows an apparent decline in synthetic drugs in Tennessee after a law was passed banning most of the substances.
Tennessee Poison Center director Dr. John Benitez says cases are still being reported in emergency rooms across the state, but the number this year has dropped substantially.
Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, told The Tennessean that the law has worked, "but we can't let our guard down."
Synthetic drugs began showing up in 2010. They were sold in small packets and labeled "not for human consumption," but they contained synthetic drugs that people ingested anyway. Many landed in emergency rooms.
Tennessee lawmakers responded by passing legislation that not only banned the substances, but allowed local authorities to shut down businesses selling the packets.
The law led to police closing 11 Nashville-area stores that were accused of selling the substances after a ban was approved. Most of the stores made deals with prosecutors that allowed them to reopen.
"We didn't just slow it down in Nashville by doing that; we slowed it down in the entire state of Tennessee," said Sgt. Gene Donegan, a longtime narcotics investigator with Metro Police. "I think people kind of weren't aware of that, that the new law had passed, and they continued to use it."
Donegan said the laws have helped out.
"Before, you could have 100 pounds of this stuff, and we had to write them a citation, it was a misdemeanor," he said. "We are still seeing some. We have actually made a few undercover buys from individuals and arrested several people since then, but it is definitely slowing down since the new laws went into place."
The decrease in use is also being seen at treatment centers.
"We have not seen as much of a pattern of admission for that as we did about a year ago," said Chuck Rapp, admissions coordinator at Cumberland Heights Treatment Center.
Sparks said he expects more versions of synthetic drugs to hit the market, and issued a warning about taking them.
"You cannot be a recreational synthetic drug user because of the devastating effects," he said. "It's like saying, I'm just going to play with dynamite. You're going to get hurt eventually."
Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.