BANGOR, Maine — With all things sold — even street drugs such as synthetic bath salts — the law of supply and demand plays a role in cost.
Police and Maine Drug Enforcement Agency leaders are saying that state and federal laws banning the drug have caused the price to go up. At the same time, the number of patients high on the dangerous hallucinogenic drug being treated at Eastern Maine Medical Center has gone down.
Troy Morton, deputy chief for the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday that inmates at the jail and users are telling him there is less of the drug around and the price of what is available is rising.
Bangor police Sgt. Ed Potter said Friday that he had no information about availability but was able to say, “the market is changing” and “we’re hearing the price is going up.”
Darrell Crandall, MDEA division commander, agreed that the crackdown on the illegal drug, with numerous arrests and seizures made throughout central and midcoast Maine over the past few weeks, has had a desired effect on supply.
“With continued pressure we are hopeful to have a noticeable impact on availability,” Crandall said.
The efforts have worked, according to one former user, a 46-year-old Bangor man who asked not to be identified. He said Friday that he keeps track of the synthetic drug because he has a child and friends who are still users.
“It’s $100 a gram right now and availability is real slim,” he said.
The drug was selling for $30 to $35 a gram bag when it emerged back in February on the streets of Bangor, where it is called “monkey dust.” At that time it was legal to possess and could be purchased over the counter at convenience stores and head shops as well as online.
“It’s becoming pretty scarce” and that is causing the price to skyrocket, the former user said.
The drug can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed, is addictive and causes users to act unpredictably, Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia said during a fall conference on bath salts.
He and Bangor police Lt. Tom Reagan both have said that the fact the drug initially was cheap was an attractive feature for local users. An increase in cost makes it less attractive, Morton said.
Possession of bath salts in Maine became illegal in July but it wasn’t until state legislators strengthened the bath salts law in September, making possession a misdemeanor and trafficking a felony, that EMMC started to see a decrease in patients, said Dr. Jonnathan Busko, an emergency room doctor in Bangor.
“We’re probably still seeing three patients a day on average,” he said Friday.
That’s down from an average of six or seven a day at the height of the bath salts storm that hit Bangor this summer, he said.
Even after it was outlawed in Maine, users still could purchase bath salts online from states that had yet to ban the substance.
Then the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took emergency action in September to federally ban three of the main components of the lab-made drugs, which also probably contributed to the decrease in availability.
Bangor police respond to between one and three calls a day on average involving the stimulant, which looks like cocaine and usually contains mephedrone or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV.
On Friday morning, local officers dealt with a woman on bath salts who told them she wanted to get off the drug.
“They’ll tell you, ‘It’s bad,’” Potter said of users. “They know. It’s not a mystery.”
The former user said he knows firsthand the effects of the drug.
“It’s just like playing Russian roulette,” he said.