EDITORIALS

Feds must act to stem tide of bath salts

A selection of bath salts, a synthetic drug that became illegal in Maine in July, confiscated recently by the Bangor Police Department.
Photo courtesy of Bangor Police Department
A selection of bath salts, a synthetic drug that became illegal in Maine in July, confiscated recently by the Bangor Police Department.
Posted Sept. 07, 2011, at 5:40 p.m.

If the horror of bath salts is to be thwarted, the federal government must be part of the effort.

Maine state government wisely is moving to respond to the burgeoning problem with new laws aimed at raising the penalties for possession and distribution. Gov. Paul LePage also is directing Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen to encourage schools to make students aware of the dangers of the substance.

The awareness initiative also is being implemented through other channels, said Guy Cousins, director of Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse. The state’s public health districts are developing education efforts, civic organizations are being enlisted, parent groups associated with schools are being contacted and printed and electronic literature is being developed and distributed.

All “can play a huge role” in fighting bath salts use, he said.

Still, the source of bath salts is unlike that of other illicit drugs, and so a different approach must be used to choke off the supply. Consider the source of other drugs: they are variously imported from other countries (heroin, cocaine), manufactured in secret labs (crystal meth, LSD), diverted from legitimate manufacturers (prescription pain killers) or grown (marijuana). All are sold on the black market.

Bath salts are, at the moment, manufactured legally and sold legally, at least in some states. The predominant marketing venue is social networking sites. The substance is often purchased from a website and mailed to users or dealers.

If the federal government were to make manufacture, sale and shipping of bath salts or any artificial amphetamine illegal, the flow to places like Bangor would slow.

The Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center, in a July report, describes the problem in stemming distribution:

“Manufacturers and distributors of synthetic cathinone products [like bath salts] evade U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Administration regulation and enforcement because synthetic cathinones are not scheduled under the Federal Controlled Substances Act,” the report states. Prosecution is possible, the report adds, under another federal law, but it is more difficult, especially if bath salts manufacturers label their product “not for human consumption.”

Additionally, the product has found a ready distribution pipeline through the Web:

“As synthetic cathinones become more regulated, abusers will likely use the Internet with greater frequency to purchase cathinone products, the raw chemicals used in their production and products that contain cathinones not specifically prohibited by enacted legislation,” the report notes.

Each of the 50 states have either made the substance illegal or have announced plans to do so. This may move the bath salts business behind closed doors much as the crystal meth industry operates.

Mr. Cousins said that chemical engineers — “not the ones who are working for a major chemical company,” he added — are able to create the substance fairly easily. Shadowy but legal businesses have been observed mixing, packaging and shipping the substance from rented warehouses, he said.

Clearly, the federal government must step in as part of the multipronged approach to limiting the availability of this dangerous substance.

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