Bi-partisan support builds to stop two new types of substance abuse
By Barbra Shoun
April 19, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY — At least two members of the Missouri House of Representatives are rushing to stop two new types of substance abuse before they become common practice in the United States.
Rep. Trent Skaggs, D-North Kansas City and a deacon at First Baptist Church, North Kansas City, is sponsoring House Bill 250 (HB-250) that would make it illegal for clubs and bars to dispense alcohol in vaporizers.
Skaggs, a deacon at First Baptist Church, North Kansas City, explains that a new vaporizer technology from Europe mixes alcohol with pressurized oxygen so that users can inhale alcohol rather than drinking it. The vaporizers were introduced into the U.S. in August 2004.
“When you drink alcohol, it gets broken down by the kidneys, liver, and blood supply,” says Skaggs, “ but when you inhale it, it goes straight to the brain.” He is concerned that the vaporizer manipulates blood alcohol levels so that breathalyzer tests might not give the true picture of a driver’s intoxication level.
“How will we test blood alcohol levels and insure our roads are safe from drunk drivers if people are inhaling instead of drinking?” he asks.
Distributors advertise that the oxygen-alcohol mist is low in calories and carbohydrates and that it leaves no hangover.
“I’m worried that college students might see it as trendy. We don’t know enough about the device’s safety,” says Skaggs.
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone and a Catholic, is also fighting to stop the inhalers before they become common practice.
He introduced HB-822, classifying the vaporizers as drug paraphernalia. However, alcohol is not considered to be a drug, so he withdrew the bill and rewrote it, making the vaporizer itself illegal. The replacement bill, HB-951, does not apply to therapeutic inhalers.
Nolte’s second area of substance abuse legislation is a drug known as khat (pronounced COT). Made from the leaf of the catha edulis shrub of East Africa and Southern Arabia, khat has been entering the U.S. via immigrants from those countries.
Khat leaves are chewed in moderation to stave off hunger and pain and to alleviate fatigue. When used to a greater extent, however, the plant has psychotic properties.
Nolte points out that khat is already an illegal drug in the U.S., but a loophole in the law has allowed drug dealers to go free even when caught red-handed with the drug. “There’s a glitch in the law,” he says. “We’re tightening up language on a drug that is already illegal.”
Nolte, whose party is in the majority, says he is optimistic that the khat bill will be passed in this session.
“I hope we can pass it because we’re catching it very early on.”
He is optimistic that the legislature will pass the vaporizer bill, too, but he thinks his rewrite might have been too late for action this year. If it doesn’t pass, he intends to promote it early in the next session.
Skaggs’ bill has been heard in committee in the General Assembly and he hopes to attach it to another bill headed for passage.