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Associated Press, Published November 30 2012

North Dakota pharmacy board bans more synthetic substances

BISMARCK — A Grand Forks couple who lost their son to drugs this summer spoke here Friday to the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy, which voted to ban a host of additional substances used in synthetic drugs.

The board unanimously accepted the rules, proposed by the state attorney general’s office, which will ban many now-legal substances, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Several parents urged the board to ban more of the growing scourge of synthetic drugs made by inexperienced “chemists” that often have unknown potency and effects.

Debbie and Keith Bjerk, the parents of Christian Bjerk, who was 18 when he died June 11 in Grand Forks after ingesting synthetic hallucinogens.

Debbie Bjerk said witnesses described her son as screaming and vomiting in the hours before his body was found on a front yard two houses down from the party where he took the drugs with friends.

Keith Bjerk urged the board to act: “This is a semi heading down a hill with a full load and no brakes.”

The same batch of drugs is believed to have killed another teen in Grand Forks, and sent several others to the hospital. Eleven people in a local drug ring have been charged and nine have pleaded guilty.

Wesley Sweeney, 18, the Manvel, N.D., man who bought the hallucinogen blamed for killing Bjerk, was sentenced Monday to 12.5 years in a federal prison.

John Snyder came close to crying as he told the board his 13-year-old daughter had a three-second seizure after taking a synthetic drug called “Bizarro.” She was rushed to an emergency room after the October incident, but recovered. He confronted the shop owner that sold her the substance and told the father it was clearly labeled not for human consumption. But officials say that’s a typical dodge used in marketing some of the synthetic drugs.

The board’s ban will take effect as soon as the legislative council publishes them.

The pharmacy board used an emergency rule two years ago to outlaw several chemicals, and the state Legislature added more substances during the 2011 session.

But state crime lab scientist Charlene Schweitzer said within three weeks of that law being passed, she was running into new synthetic drugs not covered by the law.

The new rules cover substances derived from known ones, meaning substances with slight chemical differences from those known substances — often called “analogues” — will be illegal. Federal laws on controlled substances already apply the same logic.

Schweitzer said these new rules go beyond most states’ regulations and cover chemicals that haven’t showed up in the state yet.

She acknowledged it still is possible for chemists to come up with something new to circumvent the laws.

Julie Lawyer, an assistant attorney general who works in the U.S. attorney’s office in Bismarck, said the attorney general’s office is drafting legislation to outlaw distribution of any substance if the person distributing it knows it will be used to get high.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said such laws are needed because the pharmacy board can ban substances but can’t take on the needed policy changes.

Forum Communications reporter Steve Lee contributed to this story.

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