MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers are considering tough new laws to fight what they call the growing epidemic of dangerous “designer drugs.”

The Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs is meeting Tuesday morning to talk about the impact of synthetic drugs. The chairman is Rep. Erik Simonson, a Duluth Democrat.

A head shop in Duluth is the unlikely epicenter of Minnesota’s synthetic drug controversy. The owner of the head shop “Last Place on Earth” arrested for selling the drugs labeled as incense, which he claims are legal under Minnesota law.

The drugs are commonly sold as incense and bath salts, but they are laced with dangerous chemicals.

Now, state lawmakers are struggling with what they say is a rapidly growing problem.

“People are becoming addicted to this. It’s a very addictive drug. It’s many, many, many times worse than marijuana and the lives that are getting destroyed is unbelievable,” Simonson said.

It’s a game of cat and mouse, because as fast is the drugs are made illegal, drug makers change the makeup to get around the new laws.

“It’s a chemistry issue. So, in many cases we’re trying to prohibit substances that haven’t been invented yet,” BCA Director Wade Setter said.

In Minneapolis last month, police raided a Hmong market and seized large quantities of synthetic material. In 2011, a Blaine teenager died after ingesting the drug.

Experts say it’s creating a kind of Russian roulette: a drug manufactured unevenly by people who use dangerous chemicals in unsafe conditions.

“As with Russian roulette, you might pull the trigger several times and nothing happens. But sooner or later, you might pull the trigger and kill yourself. It’s the same thing with these drugs,” Cody Wiberg, who is on the Minnesota Board Of Pharmacy, said.

Minnesota cracked down hard on methamphetamines in the 1990s, and virtually wiped out meth production in Minnesota. That’s what they’re hoping to recreate with the trend toward designer drugs.

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