DA Shaffer and Other Local DA's Write to Lawmakers On Dangerous Drug

JOINT PRESS RELEASE FROM THE DISTRICT ATTORNEYS OF CAMERON, ELK, AND MCKEAN:

The Honorable Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer (McKean), The Honorable Paul Malizia (Cameron), & The Honorable Thomas Coppolo (Elk)

Cameron County District Attorney Paul Malizia, Elk County District Attorney Thomas Coppolo and McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer jointly urge lawmakers to list the drug Etizolam as a Schedule I controlled substance in Pennsylvania. 

The three District Attorneys each wrote to various legislators and others to notify them that this drug has been seen in this part of Pennsylvania in the last several months, first discovered by police in our area in St Mary’s in October of 2020.

DA Malizia quoted from an expert his office has retained who said that Etizolam is “ten (10) times more potent than Diazepam or Valium on a milligram per milligram basis. It is not authorized by the FDA for medical use in the United States and is not considered a controlled substance in the State of Pennsylvania. It is primarily purchased via the internet and has emerged as a dangerous chemical on the illicit drug market in the United States causing extensive morbidity and mortality. In the U.S. it is unsafe for human use at any dose.”

His office is currently prosecuting a case in which school children were found to be significantly under the influence in their school after eating an item that looked like a popular candy but which was later found to contain Etizolam.

Elk County DA Coppolo reiterated DA Malizia’s comments and stressed that he has received a DEA bulletin from 2016 highlighting the danger Etizolam poses.  He feared that a child may die from unknowingly ingesting a substance that contains this drug.  He stressed that prosecutors can only use the crimes code to prosecute cases and drug crimes pose a particular difficulty because new illicit drugs are introduced by dealers quicker than laws can be amended to include them.  He expressed concern that, 5 years after that DEA bulletin was published, this drug continues to evade classification as a Controlled Substance. 

McKean County DA Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer urged that Etizolam be added as a controlled substance so that prosecutors can use the primary drug statute to punish dealers who provide this substance.  She advises that the statute cannot be applied if the drug is not a controlled substance or other substance specifically listed in the act.  She warns that she faced a similar impediment in prosecuting a 2015 overdose death in which the drug that caused a young Bradford man’s death was not listed as a controlled substance at the time of the death.  Because of that, the prosecution had fewer crimes that it could enforce in the case- a real travesty for a family who has suffered such a significant loss.

She wrote to lawmakers: “Just like you, we are constantly trying to stay on top of what the latest substance is, particularly when it is a potent drug that is very likely to cause death. This is because of our obligations as prosecutors and also as human beings who, like you, are merely trying to prevent untimely loss of life which, more often than not, seems like it could wipe out a generation of young people.”

Etizolam was confiscated during an arrest by Bradford City Police in December, 2020.

The Three District Attorneys, working closely with Attorney General Special Agent Fred Myers, are monitoring the presence of Etizolam in this part of Pennsylvania.

The 3 Prosecutors urge: On behalf of law enforcement and other citizens of our respective counties, most importantly children, we urge you to consider legislation that would add Etizolam to the list of substances under Schedule I.