President signs federal synthetic bath salts ban

Posted July 14, 2012, at 1:40 p.m.
Last modified July 15, 2012, at 7:39 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The dangerous street drug bath salts are outlawed countrywide now that President Barack Obama has signed national legislation banning lab-made components of the deadly drugs.

Obama signed a federal law on Monday, July 9, banning the sale of synthetic bath salts, synthetic marijuana and nearly two dozen other man-made drugs.

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 the Bangor region in February 2011.

Not in Bangor, but elsewhere in the state and around the country, the synthetic stimulants were sold at convenience stores and head shops under different names, such as Arctic Blast, Ivory White, Snow Day and Cloud 9. The packages sold in stores and online are labeled “not for human consumption” and sometimes are labeled as plant fertilizer or glass cleaner.

Bath salts use and abuse in Maine quickly spread to other areas of the state and Bangor police Chief Ron Gastia said earlier this year that bath salts are why drug-related crime in the Queen City jumped 35 percent, from 154 incidents in 2010 to 237 last year.

When users snorted, smoked, injected or drank the drug, it caused some to become extremely paranoid, irrational, to act in strange ways and sometimes become suicidal.

The drug users, often naked or partially naked because the drug causes the body’s temperature to rise, climbed into sewer pipes, ceilings and up fire escapes screaming that people were after them when no one was, and some gnawed at their own skin trying to kill invisible bugs.

“No region of our country or of Maine is immune to this growing and persistent threat,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Saturday in an email. “This new law will give law enforcement the tools it needs to help ensure our citizens are not put at risk by these synthetic drugs.”

State lawmakers banned bath salts in July 2011 in Maine, where it is sold under names such as monkey dust, Rave-on and Kryptonite, and has been linked to at least three deaths in the Bangor area.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took emergency action in September 2011 to federally ban mephedrone, Methylone and MDPV, and bath salts already are banned in much of Europe, where they surfaced in the mid-2000s as a club drug.

The U.S. Senate, in a 96-1 vote, approved the Food and Drug Administration’s User Fee Agreement bill in May and the U.S. House of Representatives approved its version in June. The new FDA law adds mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, which are used to make bath salts, to Schedule I — most restrictive category of the Controlled Substances Act — and they are now in the same class as heroin and LSD.

The other 29 substances banned in the law including 20 used to make synthetic marijuana and nine other synthetic hallucinogens. Those caught selling the deadly drugs now face a penalty of up to 20 years and possession could put a person behind bars for 20 years and include a fine of up to $1 million, the DEA website states.

“If death or serious bodily injuries result from use of the drug the minimum is 20 years and the maximum is life,” Bangor attorney Wayne R. Foote has said.

Collins and fellow Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe co-sponsored the Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act, a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.

“President Obama’s swift approval of this federal ban is the final nail in the coffin for the legal sale of bath salts in smoke shops and convenience stores in New York State and throughout the rest of the country,” Schumer said in a statement. “This law will close loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensure that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly bath salts, and I’m pleased that after a great deal of effort, it has become law.”

“I am pleased the president has signed vital legislation I supported to take a crucial step in stopping the spread of bath salts by banning the sale of the substance. The severity of the bath salts crisis cannot be overstated,” Snowe said in a statement obtained Saturday. “The toll it has taken on our state and the health of our citizens is significant, and disturbing reports of violent and self-destructive behavior are deeply concerning and must be addressed at all levels of government.”

Collins has said that the bath salts crisis is a “national threat that requires national action.”

In Maine, law enforcement, emergency room and other medical personnel, schools, lawmakers and those who treat people addicted to drugs got together early to talk about the emerging drug and how to keep communities safe, Gastia has said. That effort helped to educate folks who were dealing with the bizarre behaviors about what to do, and also led to groundbreaking treatments developed at Maine hospitals and used around the country.

“While officials in Maine acted quickly and responsibly to combat this problem, this legislation will make it easier to combat the sale of these harmful drugs across state lines,” U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said in a statement issued Sunday. “I have been proud to work with Maine law enforcement on this issue for much of the last year, and hope that this bill will help them to prevent future crises like this one from occurring.”

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