Bath Salts: Update on Legislation and Use in America

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Bath salts are far from bubble bath fare: these substances can produce increased heart rate, fits, delusions, hallucinations, muscle damage, kidney failure, violent unpredictable behavior, and death. People across America are turning to this dangerous drug, and individual states are frantically drafting and passing legislation to control its sale and use. Here’s a brief look at where we stand on bath salts.

Bath salts can be smoked, snorted, or ingested

The highly dangerous bath salts are available as crystals or powder, and are sold under names like Blue Silk, Lovey Dovey, Ivory Wave, and Vanilla Sky, among others. Bath salts often contain various amphetamine-like chemicals, such as mephedrone, pyrovalerone, and methylenedioxpyrovalerone (MPDV). Mephedrone in particular has a high risk of overdose.

Bath salts seemingly burst onto the scene. In 2009, there were no reported cases to Poison Control Centers in the United States, but that changed in 2010, when there were 303 for the year. The latest information from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (as of July 31, 2011) shows 4,137 reported exposures to bath salts. And these are just the reported cases.

As of July 2011, 25 states had already banned the designer drugs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, with more on the way. Pennsylvania joins the ranks on August 22. However, according to at least one news source there in Mechanicsburg (ABC News 27 WHTM), a new product is already on the shelves, replacing the banned substance. The new product? A so-called jewelry cleaner that gives abusers the same effects as do bath salts.

In Maine, draft legislation designed to strengthen the state’s laws on bath salts is expected to be ready by late in August. Governor Paul LePage had already signed a bill that banned sale of bath salts, but the administration believes it is too weak.

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Statewide, there were 88 calls to the Northern New England Poison Control Center regarding bath salts poisoning between January and July 2011 in Maine. This compares with one call for the entire year of 2010.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, police officers recently raided seven businesses and seized hundreds of packages of bath salts, which were ruled illegal as of June 1 in that state. At the end of July, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that made certain controlled substances schedule 1, including MDPV. Between November 13, 2010 and the end of June 2011, there were 85 emergency department visits in the state for bath salt abuse.

In Nebraska, at least three senators are working on proposals to make their state among those that ban bath salts. Other states are actively working on or considering similar legislation. But will it help?

Lawmakers are facing a difficult battle for several reasons. One is that state laws cannot stop online sales. Two, drug makers simply change the formulations of bath salts and other items that are ruled illegal by adding new ingredients to replace the banned substances, which then technically makes the product legal in some states. And three, these products are easy to find and purchase.

In Minnesota, if a drug’s chemical structure is similar to one that has been banned in state law, that drug is also illegal. This approach could possibly help stem the easy flow of bath salts and other illegal products. But the way things are going now, the illegal drug makers, and not the drug law makers, are keeping one step ahead.

SOURCES:
ABC News 27, Aug. 20, 2011
American Association of Poison Control Centers
Kennebec Journal, Aug. 18, 2011
National Institute on Drug Abuse
NBC channel 17, Aug. 19, 2011
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

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