More than 200 attend forum on bath salts problem in Rockland

Posted Oct. 24, 2011, at 7:08 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — More than 200 people gathered Monday to hear a Rockland Police Department presentation about bath salts in the community.

In the past six months, since the designer drugs have found their way to the seaside city, more than 130 arrests have been linked bath salts. In the entire county there have been 190 cases. But those numbers are extremely low-ball figures, according to Rockland police Sgt. Don Finnegan, who gave the presentation Monday.

Finnegan, who said that the city doesn’t have a solid data set to work from, just searched police logs for the words “bath salts” to reach his figure of 130 arrests related to the drug. He said that number does not include arrests where the police officer just jotted “drugs” as the issue.

The new problem has burdened the Police Department, the local hospital and others who work in the public. To address concerns, two health organizations teamed up with police to host the forum at Rockland City Hall, which was packed Monday evening. Clergymen, schoolteachers, jail staff, staff from the district attorney’s office, health professionals, emergency responders and law enforcement representatives from all over Knox County showed up for the meeting.

Finnegan told people what to look for to determine if a person is high on bath salts. Likely, he said, the person will be paranoid, chatty, sweating and might have taken some clothes off. When Finnegan gets an emergency call and the 911 dispatcher says the suspect has his shirt off, Finnegan will suspect bath salts.

Aside from Bangor, Rockland has been hardest hit by bath salts, according to Finnegan. The only difference, aside from fewer arrests in Rockland, is that people in Bangor tend to smoke the drug and people in the midcoast inject it, he said.

“It’s been very powerful and it hit us fast. It’s new enough that people don’t know much about it,” Finnegan said.

One theory for why Rockland has been so hard hit, Finnegan said, was because there are fewer drug dealers to serve the addicted in the midcoast. When one drug dealer gets busted, the county takes a hard hit for that drug.

“We had a lot of coke on the street. We smacked someone and there is a shortage, so people try new stuff,” Finnegan said. “Bangor has a ton and I don’t understand it.”

The Rev. Seth Jones of Rockland Congregational Church shot one of the first questions at Finnegan. What should he do if he sees someone high on bath salts?

“Call 911,” Finnegan said, because could be a medical emergency.

Finnegan played a video of a man high on cocaine — a similar stimulant — dying. If the case seems less extreme, if the person isn’t sweating or acting delusional, try to calm them down, Finnegan said.

“It’s helpful to know what to look for,” Jones said. “As a clergy-person it’s good for me to be aware of the drug of choice. It helps me know how to talk to people using the drug and their caregivers.”

Hal Perry of Rockland, who works at Oceanside High School East, said he hasn’t yet seen any students high on the drug, but the idea that he might worries him.

“Now I know what to look for,” Perry said. “This is a concern for anybody in education.”

So much so that Finnegan has scheduled to give the same presentation to high school faculty later this week.

Monday’s event was hosted by Rockland District Nursing and Knox County Community Health Coalition.

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