State Health Officer acts to ban possession and sale of designer drug

LITTLE ROCK, AR — Dr. Paul Halverson, director and state health officer of the Arkansas Department of Health approved an emergency rule to ban the sale and distribution of phenazepam, sometimes spelled “fenazepam,” a “designer drug” marketed for human consumption, even though the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved its use, according to a release.

The ban adds this drug as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Schedule I Controlled Substances have no approved medical use in the United States and include substances of high abuse. The newly adopted emergency rule will become effective immediately upon filing with the Secretary of State. Phenazepam is five times as potent as Valium. Several countries, including Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States are seeing an increase in recreational use of this drug with reports of driving impairment, severe toxicity and human fatalities.

Halverson said that the agency was alerted to the use of this drug in Arkansas by the Arkansas Poison & Drug Information Center. The Arkansas State Crime Laboratory has processed three confirmed cases connected with phenazepam.

The Arkansas State Board of Health will be asked to start the rule-making process to regulate phenazepam as a Scheduled I Controlled Substance. The emergency rule will only be effective for 180 days and the regular rule-making process will take about four months to complete, because it involves a 30-day public comment period and review by two legislative committees, the Public Health and Welfare Committee and the Rules and Regulations Committee, legislative committees that represent both the state House and Senate.

Phenazepam is prone to toxic drug interactions when used in combination with other drugs. At least one human fatality occurred after an individual smoked a “joint” consisting of synthetic cannabinoids laced with phenazepam.

“This new law is not intended to place people into the criminal justice system,” Halverson said. “This regulation is intended to educate the public about the dangers of this drug and illicit drug use, as well as restricting ready access to minors. Enforcement responsibilities will fall primarily to local law enforcement and prosecutors.”

Those in violation of the new law are subject to criminal penalties for possession or sale of a Schedule I Controlled Substance.

“I take seriously my responsibility to protect the health of the people of Arkansas,” Halverson said. “In circumstances like these, we consider all the available evidence, the recommendations of public health experts and existing scientific facts in determining the need to ban phenazepam.”

FOX16’s Josh Rosenthal will have more information on FOX16 News at 5pm.

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