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Synthetic drugs a thorny issue for police and lawmakers

Law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin and across the country have noticed an upsurge in the number of crimes involving synthetic drugs known by street names such as bath salts and spice. These complex chemical formulas are usually developed to skirt narcotics laws, and the resulting substances can have severe adverse effects on the individuals who consume them. However, because these drugs are often not actually illegal at the time of their introduction, they have sometimes been offered for sale openly in convenience stores and other retail establishments.

Illegal drugs generally fall into one of three categories. Natural drugs like marijuana and peyote are not processed or modified prior to consumption, and even derivative drugs such as cocaine are closely based on plants. However, synthetic drugs like methamphetamine, LSD and MDMA are created in laboratories, and they have little in common with any substance found in nature.

Federal lawmakers generally act quickly to reclassify drug schedules and ban dangerous new synthetic compounds, but drug makers have become adept at getting around new laws by tinkering with their formulas to make them legal once again. This cat-and-mouse game has created a dangerous environment for those seeking a legal high. Synthetic compounds are often far more powerful than natural or derivative drugs, and the individuals who take them have sometimes harmed themselves or others while under their influence.

Most criminal cases are resolved when defendants enter into plea agreements. Prosecutors are judged based on their results and often struggle to keep up with heavy caseloads, and they may be willing to accept a plea in return for a speedy conclusion even when police have provided them with compelling evidence. The consequences of possessing dangerous synthetic compounds can be severe, but experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to have drug charges and penalties reduced by pointing out mitigating factors such as sincere remorse and prior good behavior.

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