Board of Health Adopts New Regulations Banning Sale of Synthetic Drugs in New Bedford
After several years of grappling with the dangers of synthetic drugs in the city, the New Bedford Board of Health adopted new regulations Thursday to implement an outright ban on the sale of the substances effective immediately.
The board approved a draft version of the regulations that was announced earlier this week during a press conference at New Bedford City Hall.
Unlike the national regulations implemented by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the new local regulation will attack the products from how they effect consumers.
"They've had trouble banning them at a state and national level because the DEA has been kind of boxed-in to having to go after chemical structures," said Craig Longo, Board of Health member and emergency department physician at St. Luke's Hospital. "What we're actually going after is intent and effect, following suit with some other communities like Lynn and Wareham that have done the same."
Director of Health Brenda Weis said since the draft of the regulation was announced, three other local communities have inquired about the language. Weis declined to identify those communities but said they are on the Southcoast.
The board acknowledged many establishments have voluntarily removed products known as "Spice", "K2", "Scooby Snacks", "potpourri" and various other names but some are still selling them, including one smoke shop just across the street from the New Bedford Veteran's Transition House.
Case manager Mike Riley spoke in support of the ban during Thursday's meeting and said synthetics just add to the turmoils of recovery.
"They have enough on their plate and enough temptation without it being flashed right in front of their face," Riley said. "It's hard enough to recover without watching people getting high basically right in front of you."
The regulations are expected to mesh with violations of tobacco sales, including fines and license suspensions.
"Currently we have a fine structure in place for tobacco violations and one of the things we're looking at is maybe encompassing all of these violations under the same structure," Longo said.
As it's written now, violations of the regulation will result in a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 fine for the second offense within 24 months, $300 fine and possible seven day suspension of tobacco license for third offense within 24 months, and $300 fine and possible 30 day suspension of license for fourth offense within 24 months.
Pending a future hearing, an amendment could lump synthetic and tobacco violations together within the same penalty bucket.
Board members believe the risk of potentially losing the privilege to sell tobacco, a huge money maker, will encourage store owners to comply with the regulations.
All establishments in the city will be notified by letter about the ban and will have 60 days upon hire of an enforcement officer to remove all products from their shelves.
Mayor Jon Mitchell allocated funding in the recent FY17 budget to add the new position, though it has not yet been filled.