Maine senators co-sponsor federal bath salts bill

A selection of bath salts, a synthetic drug that became illegal in Maine in July, confiscated recently by the Bangor Police Department. Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins are co-sponsoring federal legislation that would ban the  drug.
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. Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins are co-sponsoring federal legislation that would ban the drug.
Posted Sept. 20, 2011, at 7:09 p.m.

Maine’s two U.S. senators have taken notice of the bath salts epidemic in the state and are co-sponsoring federal legislation that would ban the synthetic drug.

“Disturbing reports of violent and self-destructive behavior are just the tip of the iceberg,” Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe said Tuesday of the dangerous stimulant, which began to surface in Maine last February.

She and fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins both support the passage of the Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act, proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., which would ban methedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, key ingredients of bath salts.

Bath salts are a lab-made drug that can cause hallucinations, convulsions, psychotic episodes and thoughts of suicide, police officials in Maine and other states are reporting.

“We’re seeing extreme paranoia” in people who have taken the drug, Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj said Tuesday. They often believe that someone is after them, he added, and also exhibit signs of psychosis.

Bath salts users are a danger to themselves, others and the law enforcement and emergency medical personnel dispatched to help them, Haj said.

Users of the drug also experience increased heart rates, agitation, anxiety, a diminished requirement for sleep and lack of appetite, Maine police and doctors have said.

“Maine hospitals reported 29 overdoses of bath salts in the month of July compared with zero six months ago,” Snowe said. “Bangor Chief of Police Ron Gastia recently reported his police department typically sees 1 to 3 incidents of bath salts use each day.”

In recent months, Bangor-area police have dealt with numerous people who believed others were out to kill them, a man who attempted to grab an officer’s gun, a woman with a knife who followed a couple in downtown Bangor and a man who attempted suicide by cop — all after consuming the drug.

A Bangor transient was charged Monday night after she knocked on a stranger’s door and told the woman who answered that she was looking for her mother, Bangor police Sgt. Allen Hayden said Tuesday. The Sanford Street resident immediately called police.

Responding officers knew right away that “something was not right in the way she was acting,” the sergeant said of Casandra Bean, 20.

Bean was found in possession of bath salts and given two tickets, one for possession of hallucinogenic drugs and one for sale and use of drug paraphernalia. She was not arrested, Hayden said.

Bath salts became illegal in Maine at the beginning of July, but those caught with the drug are issued a civil offense and dealers face only a misdemeanor charge.

Maine legislators, led by Gov. Paul LePage, are looking to stiffen bath salts penalties and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is working to make three of the main components of the stimulant a Schedule 1 drug, the same class as heroin and LSD.

The DEA’s ban will take effect in early October and remain in place for at least one year while the agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study a permanent ban on methedrone, MDPV and Methylone, another ingredient of bath salts.

The federal bill supported by Snowe and Collins would make two of those components illegal much faster and on a permanent basis. They are urging quick congressional approval.

“With the use of this drug rapidly increasing, the longer we wait to permanently ban the substance, the more we put people at senseless risk,” Collins said Tuesday.

The bill has been placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar.

Public forums have been held in Bangor and Presque Isle in recent weeks to educate residents about bath salts, also known on the streets of the Queen City as “monkey dust.” Another forum, hosted by the Piscataquis Public Health Council, is scheduled for 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft.

The Knox County Community Health Coalition, Rockland District Nursing Association and Rockland Police Department will host a community training session about bath salts from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Rockland City Council chambers.

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