BREWER, Maine — The synthetic drug bath salts now can be found in every state in the nation, but there are places — such as the Bangor region — where police have plenty of hands-on experience with users of the dangerous drug.
Stories about bath salts consumers who had overdosed or poisoned themselves appeared almost daily in the Bangor Daily News last year after the drug first emerged in February 2011. But many other people in the U.S. continue to snort, smoke or inject it and never have come onto the police’s radar, Brewer police Lt. Chris Martin said last week.
“It’s all over the country and it’s spreading,” the lieutenant said.
Martin, who is a teacher for the Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training program, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., has traveled the country to spread his firsthand knowledge about bath salts to other law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, Brewer police Officer Peter Rancourt, who produced an educational PowerPoint presentation, has been educating students, seniors and anyone else in the state who wants to learn about the often psychosis-inducing street drug.
Both recently were recognized by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
“I applaud Chris and Pete for their tremendous work throughout Maine and the nation,” she said in a statement. “The toll [bath salts] has taken on our state and the health of our citizens is significant.”
Snowe and fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins are co-sponsors of the Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act, introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., which would ban mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, key ingredients of bath salts.
Education, Rancourt said, is key to stopping students and others from trying the drug, which has caused some users to become extremely paranoid, irrational and sometimes suicidal. It was banned last July in Maine, where it is sold under names such as monkey dust, Rave-on and Kryptonite, and has been linked to three deaths in the Bangor area.
The Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training program has provided tuition-free training in Maine to more than 2,000 students over the last decade, Martin said.
The group produced a public service video with the Bangor Police Department about bath salts and has given classes on subjects including abuse of opiates and diverted drugs, the lieutenant said.
Snowe worked to get police pre-emptive street tests that they now use to check whether a substance is bath salts. Often the drug is sold in white powder form and is indistinguishable from cocaine.
Maine’s senior senator now says police need street tests to see if someone has the drug in his system.
“I have heard from local law enforcement, including Chief Perry Antone, Lt. Martin and Officer Rancourt in Brewer, that the biggest challenge they face is quickly diagnosing that an individual is in fact using bath salts, due to the uncertainty surrounding identifying the characteristics of those under the influence,” Snowe said in an email interview last week. “A coordinated strategy at all levels of law enforcement is required to provide the training, awareness and resources essential to combating the rampant abuse of bath salts, which to this point has been largely unregulated and nearly impossible to track.”
Antone gave accolades to Martin and Rancourt at last week’s Brewer City Council meeting. He also said Sgt. Tony Pinette “really took it upon himself to educate” himself and those around him.
“That changed the manner in how we do business,” the police chief said. “It also has changed how the jail handles it and how other law enforcement [handle] it.”
Antone said bath salts are “like no other drug that we’ve come into contact with before. You have to approach it very carefully.”
He said his officers have worked with the lab at Eastern Maine Medical Center on a test doctors can use to determine if a person has the drug in his system, but a test that officers can use in the field is still not available.
Snowe met last week with representatives of the National Narcotics Offices Coalition from Maine, including Detective Thomas White and Cpl. Steve Charles from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
The efforts “to make these dangerous drugs illegal passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously last July, and this bipartisan legislation should be a top priority for the full chamber’s consideration,” Snowe said. “I urge Senate leadership to move forward with this effort.”
Martin was in Florida two weeks ago teaching a class about bath salts to about 70 police officers for the Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training program. Most of his students had heard about bath salts but many had no firsthand experience, he said.
While in Florida, Martin also learned that the formula for some bath salts, which for the most part comes into the U.S. from Asia, has been modified to skirt the law.
“As the active compounds are changing in bath salts, we will invariably experience new and more powerful variations” in Maine, Martin said. Police and emergency responders “therefore will experience much of the same as what we initially did concerning overdosing, psychotic and violent behaviors.
“Because of this, we as a society should be very concerned about this emerging dangerous drug trend and its direct impact upon all of us,” he said.