BREWER, Maine — State lawmakers have banned 21 different components used to make synthetic bath salts drugs and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is working to federally ban the three main components, but that is not enough, Brewer police Chief Perry Antone is saying.
“They can alter one molecule and it changes the name to skirt the law,” the police chief said of chemists who make the dangerous street drug, called “monkey dust” in and around Bangor. “We’re doing everything we can at the local level but we need legislation” that covers all the known components.
The federal DEA took emergency action in September to federally ban mephedrone, Methylone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, and designated the hallucinogenic stimulant a Schedule 1 drug, the same class as heroin and LSD.
The DEA is studying the lab-made drugs, which are called synthetic cathinones because they copy the effects of chewing the evergreen shrub Catha edulis, known as Khat, and the agency is considering banning others, Antone said.
“Currently, the federal DEA is looking to outlaw 14 of these known cathinones … when realistically there are really 30 to 35 more known cathinones out there that could be used to manufacture bath salts,” the police chief said.
Bath salts emerged on the streets of Bangor in February 2011 and by July — when it was banned — it had grown into a regional problem that has spread throughout the state.
The drug can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed, is addictive and causes users to act unpredictably, Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia has said.
Bath salts have caused hallucinations, convulsions, psychotic episodes and thoughts of suicide in users, and has been linked to more than one death in Maine.
To get the message to lawmakers, Antone wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Olympia, Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association stressing the need for stronger laws against bath salts.
Snowe, who along with fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins both support the passage of the Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act, proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., which would ban methedrone and MDPV.
His letter states a three-prong approach is needed — education, enforcement and treatment — and says the DEA and state lawmakers need to take action now and should follow in the footsteps of legislation used to ban the chemicals used to make methamphetamines.
“It is our hope we’ll be able to convince Maine legislators and federal legislators that the best thing to do is outlaw all cathinones so we don’t keep seeing new drugs under different chemical names,” Antone said. “By changing one molecule, they could create another bath salts that could be sold over the counter in Maine” legally.
This would cause a major problem for law enforcement and for consumers who would think it was a safe drug alternative because it was not illegal, the Brewer police chief said.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Antone said.