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updated: 4/6/2011 12:22 PM

Illinois pressing crackdown on synthetic drugs

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Use of synthetic drugs that mimic marijuana, cocaine and other illegal substances is proliferating across Illinois, and state lawmakers are pressing to do something about it.

The state banned sales of fake marijuana, often described as K2, last year. A similar crackdown on a key hallucinogenic substance in "bath salts" passed by the Illinois House last month and awaits Senate action.

Figures from the American Association of Poison Control Centers show a national spike in the number of people seeking medical attention after using the drugs.

Illinois' poison-control center fielded 70 K2-related calls last year. In the first three months of this year, it has already tallied 53 calls. The center's 10 calls last year involving bath salts have been dwarfed by the 80 calls it received this year through Tuesday.

Najja Howard, a spokeswoman for the center, said the reported cases aren't confined to any specific region of Illinois and have surfaced across the state.

A southwestern Illinois prosecutor-turned-lawmaker said he believes state legislators need take action against what he calls the "street chemists" behind such hallucinogenic substances that are "a sad story in many ways."

State Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat, added that passing bill after bill to curb the constantly evolving creation of synthetic drugs may be frustrating, but it must be done "to protect citizens from self-destructive behavior that they may not be fully aware of."

"If someone has to pursue K2 or bath salts, then they are in a desert as far as life is concerned. They have lost the joy of life," Haine added. "Some people accuse states (that have banned or are in the process of outlawing such substances) engaging in a Puritanism, but that's not the case. This stuff is simply beyond the pale."

Illinois' lawmakers have the support of Steve Nonn, Madison County's coroner who spent more than a quarter-century with the local sheriff's department.

"There's something new popping up all the time. It changes so quickly," Nonn said. "One man's high can be another man's death."