BELFAST, Maine — With use of the illicit drug bath salts reaching epidemic levels in Bangor to the north and in Rockland to the south, Belfast public health and safety officials are worried.
“We’re starting to experience this in Waldo County,” said Vyvyenne Ritchie, the program administrator for Healthy Waldo County. “It’s very scary. It’s going to be worse if we don’t get the awareness out.”
That’s why her agency is teaming up with the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office to hold a forum on bath salts. The featured speaker is Sgt. Jim Greeley, drug recognition expert with the sheriff’s office, who will present information about signs and symptoms of bath salts ingestion to an audience that Ritchie hopes will include a lot of interested community members.
“We’re hoping to get a number of parents who may have some concerns,” she said.
Data recently released by the Northern New England Poison Control Center in Portland indicate that bath salts users are getting younger, with most in their 20s.
Police and hospitals across Maine have reported a sharp increase in the use of the synthetic stimulant. The poison control center reported receiving 87 calls about bath salts from Maine between January and July 2011, compared to just one call in 2010.
Ritchie said that people who use drugs often will try bath salts as an experiment without recognizing the consequences. She also said that community members might find it useful to learn what to do if they come across someone who might be using bath salts.
“If they recognize someone having strange behavior, don’t approach them, because it could be very dangerous,” she said.
Greeley is a “dynamic and knowledgeable” presenter, who has done many midcoast Maine forums, she said.
Another reason the agencies wanted to make sure they did the prevention program soon is a current state budget proposal that would eliminate funds for such programs.
“There are going to be increasing problems if there aren’t services in place,” Ritchie said. “With all the prevention programs being eliminated, I can see a dramatic increase in crime. All in all, I think it’s pretty devastating.”
The bath salts community forum will be held 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Belfast Free Library at 106 High St. in Belfast. For information, call Healthy Waldo County at 930-6791.