Bath salts, synthetic drugs change too fast for foes to fight

Bath salts, which mimic the effects of drugs like cocaine
and speed. The Patriot-News photo by Chris Knight.

Though legislators across the country, including Kentucky, have passed laws to ban synthetic drugs like bath salts, there are so many new formulations of the substances the states can’t keep up.

Experts estimate there are more than 100 types of bath-salt chemicals. “The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The drugs, which mimic the effects of drugs like cocaine and amphetamines, are usually sold at small stores “in misleading packaging that suggests common household items like bath salts, incense and plant food,” Matthew Perrone reports for The Associated Press. “But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country.” The products are sold under brand names like “Ivory Wave,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Bliss.” The American Association of Poison Control got more than 6,100 calls about the drugs in 2011 — up from 304 in 2010 — and 1,700 calls so far this year.

The sticky wicket in controlling the surge of formulations stems from the fact that “U.S. laws prohibit the sale or possession of all substances that mimic illegal drugs, but only if federal prosecutors can show that they are intended for human use,” Perrone reports. On almost every packet of these drugs, there is a warning that says they are not fit for human consumption. Be that as it may, “everyone knows these are drugs to get high, including the sellers,” said Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Kentucky banned bath salts in 2011. In May 2012 Gov. Steve Beshear signed a mandate that “closes legal loopholes by banning classes, not just compounds, of synthetic drugs,” reports Jeffery Smith for WFIE-TV in Evansville, Ind. The 2011 law “extends seizure and forfeiture laws to retailers who sell the items, makes sales a felony for a second or subsequent offense, and makes simple possession a misdemeanor,” Smith reports.

Still, those fighting on the front lines of the problem said it’s difficult to curb. “The problem is these drugs are changing and I’m sure they’re going to find some that are a little bit different chemically so they don’t fall under the law,” said Dr. Sullivan Smith of Cookeville Regional Medical Center in Tennessee. “Is it adequate to name five or 10 or even 20? The answer is no, they’re changing too fast.” (Read more)

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