Feds ban three components of bath salts

A selection of bath salts confiscated recently by the Bangor Police Department.
Courtesy of Bangor Police Department
A selection of bath salts confiscated recently by the Bangor Police Department.
Posted Oct. 22, 2011, at 3:27 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 22, 2011, at 6:12 p.m.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has banned three major components of the synthetic drug “bath salts,” which has an innocent-sounding name but is a dangerous street drug that surfaced in Maine earlier this year.

Possessing or selling the drugs, which in Maine are sold under names such as monkey dust, Rave-on and Kryptonite, is now a felony across the country and carries a stiff penalty.

“This action demonstrates our commitment to keeping our streets safe from these and other new and emerging drugs that have decimated families, ruined lives, and caused havoc in communities across the country,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said Friday in a statement posted on the agency’s website. “These chemicals pose a direct and significant threat, regardless of how they are marketed, and we will aggressively pursue those who attempt their manufacture and sale.”

The DEA announced a month ago that it planned to invoke its emergency scheduling authority to temporarily ban mephedrone, Methylone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, in response to the “growing use of and interest in synthetic stimulants sold under the guise of ‘bath salts,”‘ and on Friday did just that.

The lab-made drugs are marketed as “bath salts,” “plant food” and more recently as “glass cleaner.”

The drugs’ use has led to numerous instances of psychotic and paranoid behavior and is linked to at least one death in Maine, local doctors have said.

Bath salts make “the brain go crazy,” Dr. Anthony T. Ng, medical director of psychiatric emergency services at The Acadia Hospital in Bangor, said recently, adding that users of the drug become psychotic, paranoid, agitated and hallucinatory, making them hard to deal with.

“When we get folks in the ER, they’re out of control,” Dr. Scott Thomas, who has seen the results of the drug firsthand working in the emergency room at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, said recently. “It’s frightening.”

Another scary fact, Thomas added, is that “we don’t know what the long-term effects are” on those using the drugs.

The temporary ban will be in effect for at least one year while the DEA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study whether these chemicals should be permanently controlled.

While the agencies study the drugs, Congress is working to permanently ban mephedrone and MDPV.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins are co-sponsors and support the passage of the Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act, proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., which would ban mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, key ingredients of bath salts.

“The DEA’s emergency action banning these chemicals is truly welcome news in the face of this growing epidemic,” Snowe said Saturday in a statement. “The severity of bath salts in our state and across our nation cannot be overstated.”

Since the process was started by Schumer in June to make the substances illegal, “we’ve seen the prevalence and disastrous effects grow at alarming rates,” she said, stressing, “We must pursue a permanent restriction.”

Snowe said she also is working to get police the tools they need, including a street test that will identify the drug, which often is sold as a white powder and is indistinguishable from cocaine.

Bath salts are now designated as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act, in the same class as heroin and LSD.

“Possession of a schedule 1 drug with intent to distribute it is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison,” a recent email from Bangor attorney Wayne R. Foote states. “If death or serious bodily injuries result from use of the drug the minimum is 20 years and the maximum is life.”

Those convicted of simple possession face up to 20 years in prison and can be fined up to $1 million, the DEA website states.

Schedule 1 status is reserved for those substances with a high potential for abuse, no accepted use for treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision, the DEA website states.

Bangor police Sgt. Garry Higgins, a former Maine Drug Enforcement Agency supervisory special agent for the Bangor area, said on Saturday that the federal ban should help cut down the supply of the dangerous drug.

“Hopefully now it will be harder to get it,” the sergeant said. “We hope that will curtail the ability to obtain the drug from across the country” through mail shipments or by carriers traveling into the state.

Thirty-three states, Maine included, already banned mephedrone, MDPV and similar synthetic drugs, but those in the remaining unregulated states still had allowed ordering the drugs online and over-the-counter purchases at head shops and convenience stores.

The United Kingdom, Ireland and other European countries also have banned the substances, which first turned up as a club drug.

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