House votes to ban bath salts; final Senate vote next week

Posted June 21, 2012, at 3:04 p.m.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously approved, by voice vote, a national ban on nearly two dozen synthetic drugs, including the dangerous street drug bath salts.

The bipartisan FDA User Fee Agreement bill, which was endorsed by the U.S. Senate in May on a 96-1 vote, includes language similar to the Synthetic Drug Control Act passed by the House in December, Peter Chandler, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, said Thursday.

The 2nd District Democrat, who has been pushing for the bill’s passage since last year, is urging the Senate, where a final vote is needed, to act quickly and send the measure to President Barack Obama for signature.

“I am very pleased that Congress is finally moving forward with legislation to address the bath salts crisis,” said Michaud. “I have worked extensively with local Maine law enforcement on this issue over the last several months. These provisions will help make it harder to traffic these dangerous drugs across state lines and into our communities.”

Bath salts have been linked to bizarre behavior by users — including the recent horrendous attack by a naked man caught on video eating the face of another naked man on a Miami, Fla., highway — and to deaths in Maine and across the United States.

Bath salts emerged on the streets of Bangor in February 2011 and by July — when the drug was banned in Maine — it had grown into a problem that had spread throughout the state.

The drug, which can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed, is addictive and causes users to act unpredictably and have hallucinations or psychotic episodes, officials have said.

The Food and Drug Administration bill would ban 22 synthetic chemicals used to make the street drugs and outlaw synthetic marijuana.

The measure combines three bills previously introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Among the chemicals it would outlaw are mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, which can be used to make bath salts. The bill carries a penalty of up to 30 years for those caught selling the drug.

The lone dissenter in the Senate vote was Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took emergency action in September 2011 to federally ban mephedrone, Methylone and MDPV and designated the hallucinogenic stimulants a Schedule 1 drug, the same class as heroin and LSD.

Under current law, the DEA can ban new and emerging drugs if they and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can demonstrate within 18 months that the drug is harmful and lacks medicinal or industrial value.

Provisions in the FDA bill increase that amount of time to three years so the agencies have the time they need to fully investigate new substances and keep dangerous ones off the street.

Bath salts already are banned in much of Europe, where they surfaced in the mid-2000s as a club drug.

Passage of the bill “is really going to help local law enforcement in Maine,” Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said in a statement.

The FDA bill should be placed on the president’s desk shortly, Chandler said.

“It has to pass the Senate one more time,” he said. “It might be as early as next week.”

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