2011-03-31 / Local & State

Lawmakers Consider Ban On Synthetic Drugs

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Growing use of powerful synthetic drugs linked to violent episodes has alarmed law enforcement officials and medical professionals and prompted lawmakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to consider legislation to ban them.

Authorities say chemical compounds containing methylenedioxypyrovalerone ( MDPV) and mephedrone and marketed as “bath salts’’ had already gained notoriety in Europe when they arrived in this country early last year. Snorted to mimic theeffects of cocaine and methamphetamines, they can be purchased legally in most of the country, most often in drug paraphernalia stores and on the Internet, officials said.

White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske last month said the compounds can cause hallucinations, extreme paranoia and delusions and called them “a serious threat to the health and well-being’’ of young people and anyone else who uses them. Officials in Pennsylvania say they are cropping up in cases of bizarre and disturbing behavior in many parts of the commonwealth.

For example, Easton police report getting frantic phone calls on Christmas Day from a man who said he believed his home was surrounded by armed intruders. He greeted officers armed with a sword and pointing at the chimneys of surrounding homes as his assailants before he was subdued by a stun gun, authorities alleged in court documents. Officers also said a woman with a child in her arms threatened to jump from a smashed second-floor window. Authorities allege that they were under the influence of bath salts.

In central Pennsylvania late last month, state police said a man using the drugs told police he ran away from his vehicle because he thought it was melting and electricity was chasing him. He damaged a home and jumped on the hoods of two vehicles, one of which was a marked state police car.

In western Pennsylvania, authorities say the drug was recovered from the vehicle of two Warren County men who were found dead Thursday in the Allegheny National Forest. Tests are being done to determine whether they had used the drug before they died of exposure.

The state House is planning a final vote April 4 on a bill that would ban the sale of “bath salts’’ and add other synthetic narcotics to the list of controlled substances. The measure started out in January as a ban on salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic herb mixture, and has been amended to include bath salts, synthetic marijuana and a synthetic cocaine known as “blizzard.’’

If approved, the bill would go to the Senate, which has measures of its own. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association is calling for action this session to ban bath salts and K2/Spice, a chemically treated herb mixture.

Sgt. Paul Gaspich, commander of the state police barracks in Jonestown, said authorities have seen “a vast increase’’ in use of bath salts, which can produce “extreme paranoia and delusions, increased heart rate, and chest pain and severe agitation.’’ Poison control centers in the commonwealth reported almost 300 calls involving bath salts last year, and by the middle of February this year the number of such calls had already reached 539, Gaspich said.

Five states have already banned sales of MDPV, and New Jersey is among many others considering such a ban. Earlier this month, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency listed MDPV as a “drug of concern,’’ which means the agency is examining the possibility of banning its sale, but spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said the process could take a year and a half or longer.

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