Fort Mill Times

S.C. agency should have acted faster to ban substances

We expect the federal government to be slow. They are slow to react to crisis situations and sometimes wait to the last second to “fix” our nation’s most pressing problems, many of which were caused by their last-minute actions in the first place.

One needs look no further than the recent debt ceiling fiasco back in August for an example of how inept our federal government officials can be. While they knew for months that we would reach the debt ceiling, they waited and sat on their hands until the last minute to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, this slow reaction speed doesn’t seem to be limited to Washington, D.C. Here in South Carolina, our Department of Health and Environmental Control did not react fast enough to ban dangerous drugs sitting on store shelves, available to anyone.

Over a month ago, I asked DHEC to issue emergency regulations to ban both bath salts (synthetic cocaine) and spice (synthetic marijuana). Both of these substances can be found in many stores across the state and can mimic the effects of illegal drugs, except with harsher and more dangerous side effects. Users often experience agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain and even suicidal thoughts and actions, forcing many to seek medical attention after just one use.

Both bath salts and spice are relatively new on the drug market. Doctors currently do not have a way to test to see if a person has taken them and must rely on a person’s honesty. Without the truth, doctors can misdiagnose the symptoms and the user can suffer side effects long after he or she has stopped taking the drug.

DHEC took no official action for over a month following my request. With no statewide guidance, many cities and counties were forced to move quickly to ban the dangerous substances within their limited jurisdictions. Surprisingly, even the federal government moved forward and enacted a nationwide ban within this time period. However, no statewide policy was set until Monday [Oct. 24].

Sadly, all of the bans have either been too small in geographical scope or have come too late. Earlier this month, a 19-year-old Anderson University student died after using synthetic marijuana. Many other people who used these two substances had horrible reactions to them, including episodes of severe paranoia that caused them to put themselves and others in physical danger.

I am under no illusions that a ban by a government agency will end drug use. However, it will make it harder for people to get their hands on them and send a clear message to those thinking about using that this is a dangerous substance with physical and legal consequences.

The great thing about our country is that states can react quickly to issues affecting their populace and don’t have to wait for national rulings from the federal government. With this issue, our state failed and did not take advantage of this benefit. In the future, our state agencies must act faster to successfully address crises that face our state in order to protect our citizens and ultimately save lives.

S.C. Sen. Harvey Peeler represents District 14, which includes Cherokee, Spartanburg, Union and York counties, including portions of Lake Wylie.