MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota may be taking a big step to stop the sale of synthetic drugs in the state.

A special committee of lawmakers approved a sweeping set of changes Wednesday to end what some describe as an “epidemic.”

They are substances sold in head shops around the state as incense and bath salts, but they’re extremely dangerous when ingested.

The drugs have exotic names and seductive websites, but they’re easily available on Minnesota Main Streets.

Lynn Habhegger’s 26-year-old son Corey took a synthetic drug he bought legally at The Last Place On Earth, a Duluth head shop that’s now shut down.

Habhegger told lawmakers her son suffered a heart attack and kidney failure, and he’s been in and out of mental hospitals ever since.

“Corey will never be able to hold a job, go to college, have a profession, serve his country, get married or have a family,” she said.

As often as the drugs are made illegal, the sellers change the chemical makeup to skirt the law.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson calls it a “whack-a-mole” problem.

“Never in a million years would we condone the sale of this type of poison being sold in a pharmacy and a neighborhood,” Swanson said. “Yet it is routinely sold in store-front locations in communities and neighborhoods throughout Minnesota.”

A special task force is recommending sweeping changes, including stronger laws to cover the chemical makeup of drugs that morph into new ones, and new powers for the State Board of Pharmacy to quickly declare more drugs illegal.

Rep. Erik Simonson (D – Duluth) is head of the task force. He says synthetic drugs are “prevalent everywhere.”

“One college student … told me that if you’re not taking synthetic drugs, you’re really in the minority,” Simonson said.

Pat Kessler