BERWICK, Maine — Despite a statewide ban on synthetic substances including the popular drug “bath salts,” Berwick law enforcement is experiencing a surge in bath salts calls and related crimes.
According to Berwick Detective Bill Russell, his department has seen an increase in bath salts calls and related crimes, despite the statewide emergency ban implemented recently by Gov. Paul LePage that made all synthetic hallucinogens illegal to sell, purchase, transport or ingest.
The ban, according to Russell, states the first offense under the ban is considered a Class D misdemeanor while further offenses are considered felony-level crimes.
Russell said the ban has helped to reduce bath salts calls for service. However, living on the border of a state where no such ban exists makes enforcement difficult, especially when an abutting community, Somersworth, N.H., is combating its own epidemic with the substances.
Russell estimates bath salts have become the No. 2 drug of choice in town behind prescription drugs because of direct calls for service and related crime calls.
In recent months, for example, Berwick has seen an increase in domestic violence and assault-related calls, said Russell, and some of those calls have been directly attributed to bath salts.
“It all goes hand in hand,” said Russell.
The first public arrest involving possession and consumption of bath salts in Berwick occurred in January 2012 when Joel Bennett, 27, of Berwick was charged with criminal trespassing and unlawful possession of synthetic or hallucinogenic drugs after walking into a resident’s garage uninvited and then attempting to hide bath salts underneath a nearby rock when confronted by police.
There is federal legislation in the works that, if passed, would ban close to 50 alternative bath salts ingredients. However, until that bill is passed and signed, law enforcement in communities with and without emergency bans can only focus on community awareness and enforcement in the way of local or state mandates.
Other Maine communities that border New Hampshire are not experiencing the same bath salts call volume as Berwick. Kittery, for example, a coastal town that borders Portsmouth, N.H., among other communities, has not seen an increase in bath salts-related calls.
In fact, according to Kittery Police Chief Paul Callaghan, there have been no known criminal cases of bath salts being ingested in Kittery.
Callaghan couldn’t answer why bath salts had made a minimal splash in Kittery.
Russell said while demographics may play a slight role between the disparity in bath salts-related crimes and calls in both Maine communities, Berwick has been facing more calls because of the convenience of not only bordering a state where the products are legal, but bordering a city where the products are or were being sold within feet of the state line.
“It’s convenient when it’s right across the border and Berwick is just one of the unfortunate agencies that has seen an increase in activity,” said Russell.
Russell said Berwick and Somersworth law enforcement agencies have met and discussed strategies for combating an issue they both agree is “a huge problem” in both areas.
Russell said both communities are “aggressively” working to take the products off the streets.
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