ERWIN — Unicoi County may look to add itself to a growing list of regional municipalities that have taken action to restrict the sale and use of synthetic drugs.
More and more as of late, Unicoi County law enforcement officials have been dealing with the issue, according to Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins.
“It is starting to become a problem,” Adkins said.
Adkins said authorities have responded to overdose incidents, particularly when synthetic marijuana is mixed with other drugs. And he is not the only county official concerned with the increasing problem.
The Unicoi County Commission has requested the topic be placed on its agenda for its Monday evening meeting and has also requested County Attorney Doug Shults research the matter and draft a resolution targeting the local sale and use of synthetic drugs. That resolution could possibly be up for consideration Monday.
“I believe it’s the desire of the County Commission to at least show the public that we want to do something about the synthetic drug problem and bath salts,” Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said. “We’d like to stop the sale of them here in the county.”
Governmental entities throughout the area, including Bristol, Sullivan County and Kingsport, have previously passed bans on the sale, purchase or use of synthetic drugs, with penalties of a $50 fine plus court costs. Washington County officials also recently approved a motion to ban the sale, possession or use of synthetic drugs.
Unicoi County officials have already taken steps to make their stance on synthetic drugs and bath salts known. Last month, the County Commission unanimously approved a resolution to support pending state legislation that would criminalize the use and sale of such substances. The commission also lent its approval to a resolution to enact a local “nuisance statute,” which would allow the county to enact laws prohibiting items deemed to be pubic nuisances. While details of specific nuisances to be included in the statute are set to be discussed at a later time, Lynch said it could include synthetic drugs.
“That opens the door for us to be specific and broad,” Lynch said of the statute. “I know that the commission wants to be broad in their approach to it so that it means any synthetic drug or any bath salt that’s being sold as a hallucinogen.”
Any resolution prohibiting the sale or use of synthetic drugs must be broad to be effective, Lynch said. Manufacturers of synthetic drugs have altered the chemical compounds of these substances as bans are passed, rendering laws prohibiting their sale ineffective, he said.
Shults also has been asked to give guidance on how a local ban could be enforced. While he said state law would supersede local resolutions, and the need for a local restriction may be re-evaluated once state legislation concerning synthetic drugs is passed, Lynch said the commission wants to send the message that synthetic drugs are a problem and there will be penalties for their sale and use. He also said the time for the county to act is now.
“We know going forth that we may have problems enforcing or problems even getting (a resolution) legally through, but the county commissioners want to make sure that the public’s aware of the problem, draw some attention to the problem, and inform the citizens that it’s not just another fad,” Lynch said. “It’s something that will kill a child.”
Adkins said the UCSD would completely support a ban on synthetic drugs.
“I think unless something is done to stop the sale, I think we’ll see it become even more of a problem,” he said.