PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud on Thursday touted his proposed legislation seeking to ban the synthetic drugs widely known as “bath salts” at a federal level and to provide drug enforcement agents the freedom to at least temporarily ban future designer drugs as they’re developed without having to wait for congressional approvals.
“We need a way to get ahead of these drugs before they get on the market,” said Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia. The city has been hit particularly hard by cases of bath salts abuse.
Michaud, who represents Maine’s 2nd District, and representatives from the offices of other members of Maine’s congressional delegation were scheduled to meet behind closed doors at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office with Gastia, U.S. Marshal Noel March and other top agents with the Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Office of National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director Benjamin Tucker, who was among the highest-profile officials expected at the gathering, did not make the meeting due to flight cancellations and delays traveling to Portland, March said Thursday.
After their initial conference, the officials opened the room up to members of the media for questions.
“This is pretty unique that we get federal, state, county and local officials together unified on a common issue,” March said.
The meeting was billed as a way for Gastia to describe the challenges Bangor police face in dealing with the synthetic drugs, which have caused users to become delusional and violent but have not been officially banned at a federal level.
In Maine, emergency legislation was passed to criminalize the drugs at a state level in early July, but those in attendance Thursday said it’s only a matter of time before synthetic drug producers develop a chemical compound not covered in any drug enforcement laws.
Michaud said the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011 would, in part, allow the federal Drug Enforcement Agency leeway to temporarily ban new drug compounds as they’re discovered while the agency conducts further testing on the chemicals and seeks a permanent ban from lawmakers.
On Thursday afternoon, after a representative of her office sat in on the Portland briefing, Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, announced she will be cosponsoring the proposed legislation alongside Michaud.
Federal drug enforcers have filed paperwork to ban three of the compounds known to be used in making bath salts, but agents on hand Thursday said there’s between 18 and 24 other compounds they’ve since become suspicious of.
“People say, ‘Every few years, there’s a drug that’s being called the worst drug ever,’” Gastia said. “They’ll say, ‘This is just another example of law enforcement claiming this is the worst drug,’ and my answer to that is, this is the worst drug.”
The Bangor police chief told his federal counterparts about the strain on his department’s resources and those of local hospitals in dealing with the drug users.
“We’ve had officers at the hospitals when they’ve had to have stretchers in the hallways with [drug users] restrained, because there weren’t enough rooms for them,” he said. “We had a man who believed there were creatures crawling out from under his mattress, and he fled his home with an assault rifle.”