Governor Tom Wolf today signed into law House Bill 608, sponsored by Representative Matt Baker, which amends the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device & Cosmetic Act to further provide the Pennsylvania Department of Health with the authority to control the schedules and regulations of controlled substances, liquefied ammonia gas, precursors, and chemicals. By allowing the Secretary of Health to temporarily reschedule controlled substances to a higher schedule, the Wolf Administration can continue to work to prevent widespread use of substances that have the potential to be harmful or even fatal to the public at large.
“This bill will act as another vital tool in my administration’s fight against substance abuse in Pennsylvania,” said Governor Wolf. “House Bill 608 empowers the Department of Health to get dangerous synthetic drugs out of our communities. I am proud of the work my administration is doing to combat the drug epidemic in our state, and I thank the legislature for sending this bill to my desk so that we can continue to work collaboratively to end this scourge.”
“We cannot only focus on traditional opioids in our fight against drug abuse,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy. “We must expand our understanding of drug abuse to include new hybrids that are constantly and increasingly finding their way onto our streets. In addition, many of these drugs, when mixed with opioids, are resistant to the lifesaving medication naloxone, and can cause death with even just a microscopic dose.”
A controlled substance is any type of drug that the federal government categorizes as having a higher-than-average potential for abuse or addiction. Such drugs are divided into categories based on their potential for abuse or addiction. Controlled substances range from illegal street drugs such as heroin (Schedule I), prescription medications such as oxycodone (Schedule II), and over-the-counter drugs such as Robitussin AC (Schedule V).
The illegal drug industry has found ways to create “legal” drugs by modifying the composition of a legal substance to be one that is not covered by law. This bill would allow the Secretary of Health to be able to protect the public by quickly, though temporarily, declaring a “designer drug” as an illegal drug in order to avoid an immediate hazard to public safety. This designation lapses after a year, which provides adequate time for the permanent Controlled Substance scheduling to occur.
The Secretary of Health, upon being notified of a controlled substance that should be rescheduled, has the authority to make the change and notifies the public 30 days before the rescheduling takes effect. The reschedule will remain in effect for one year to allow the secretary time to work with the Attorney General and the regulatory process to get the substance permanently scheduled at its new level. If needed, the secretary may keep the substance rescheduled for an additional year, as long as she republishes the notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.