2011-09-15 / Front Page

“Bath Salts” Drug Use On The Rise Here

State ban on sale, possession of designer drug effective August 22
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz
STAFF WRITER

Five days after the ban on the sale or possession of a designer drug known as “bath salts” took effect in the state of Pennsylvania on August 22, Pennsylvania State Police in McConnellsburg were dispatched to a residence along Black Bear Road in Needmore for an alleged criminal offense. When troopers arrived they found a 26- year-old man from Hopewell suffering from hallucinations.

According to Crime Unit Cpl. William Baker, the man kept pointing toward the wooded area near the home as well as to a parked vehicle and making repeated references to people hiding. The man was transported to Fulton County Medical Center for observation as have several other individuals who have suffered the effects of snorting, ingesting or smoking bath salts in recent months.

Cases involving bath salts have risen to around a dozen here in county since the first episode was logged in May, Baker stated. The signs of usage, he said, are obvious and often include paranoia, hallucinations or visions, agitation, chest pain, suicidal tendencies and high blood pressure.

Baker also noted in regard to local usage, the bath salts tend to be tied or linked to other crimes such as driving under the influence and theft.

“The cases we’ve encountered have basically involved crimes committed under the influence of bath salts,” he stated. “Sometimes they get addicted and steal to feed their need.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency describes ‘bath salts,” which have absolutely nothing in common with products used in bathing, as an imitation of cocaine or LSD. Found in smoke shops and convenience stores, the stimulant, until recently, could be purchased under a variety of names such as Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightening and Red Dove. The powders are manufactured in colors ranging from white and copper to grey, and cost between $25 and $50 per 50-milligram packet.

The main ingredient in bath salts, which starting gaining in popularity in 2004, is mephedrone or methylenedioxpyrovalerone, otherwise known as MDVP, noted retired state police sergeant and former McConnellsburg state police station commander Phillip Harchack.

“Word on the street revealed that these drugs were out there but did not rise to extreme levels until the latter half of 2010,” stated Harchack, who currently specializes in consulting and education in drug and safety fields for private industry and government entities. In fact, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported poison control centers around the nation received 3,470 calls regarding bath salts between January and June. Those numbers have risen significantly from a mere 303 calls logged in all of 2010.

While Fulton County officials have been fortunate to only witness several hospitalizations to date, Harchack stated the first bath salt-related death in Blair County occurred in January. In Huntingdon County, heavy use of bath salts was not seen until the following month, resulting in several local residents being hospitalized and transferred to other hospitals for further treatment, he said.

“These cases involved persons having extreme hallucinations,” Harchack noted. “Some of these included evil shadows, demons and persons they thought were out to harm them. Some cases of suicide have been reported that have resulted from people cutting themselves in order to release demons within.”

“These chemicals affect the brain’s addiction area to the point where the user does not care about anything else other than more salts. The desire for food is replaced by the desire for more drug, causing the extreme unhealthy weight loss associated with their use and also resulting in hospitalization. Furthermore, the drugs produce a state of paranoia and hallucinations that can be difficult to treat. These mental effects can last for hours, days, weeks or possibly years as these drugs have similar effects on the brain and body as methamphetamine and ecstasy,” he added.

In addition to Pennsylvania’s ban on possessing or selling bath salts, the ban also targeted the sale or possession of Salvia divinorum and K2, a synthetic cannibinoid. While the drugs are likely still to be found on some store counters, Harchack indicated they are used as an additive to other illegal drugs such as cocaine and meth to increase both the effects and the potential for addiction.

Thirty-three states, including Pennsylvania, currently have measures in place to control substances such as bath salts. Possession here carries up to a one-year jail term as well as up to $5,000 in fines. Selling the substances outlined in the state ban could result in five years and a $15,000 fine.

At the time, United States Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) applauded the statewide ban and also announced his dismay in Washington’s speed in approving a national ban. Casey endorsed the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, which would amend time frames in order for potentially dangerous substances to be removed from store shelves for additional study.

Hearing Casey’s cry, the Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced September 7 that it will use “emergency authority” to ban three chemicals used in synthetic drugs such as bath salts. Calling these drugs an “imminent hazard” to the public, the emergency action is slated to “remain in effect for at least one year, during which time the government is expected to call for permanent control of the drugs.”

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