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‘Bath salts’ continue to pose national threat

Poisoning reports underscore need for ban of chemical-laced products

Sarasota Herald Tribune

SARASOTA, Fla. — Florida banned the sale and possession of a class of designer drugs — misleadingly marketed as “bath salts” — with little fanfare this year.

Attorney General Pam Bondi issued an emergency order in January, temporarily banning MDPV, one of the chemicals found in some of the products.

The Legislature subsequently passed a bill that permanently makes it illegal to distribute or possess bath salts laced with MDPV or one of five other man-made chemicals; Gov. Rick Scott signed the legislation in late May.

Those actions were warranted at the time, and their value has been underscored by reports from poison-control centers and emergency rooms.

Poison-control centers across the United States received 3,470 calls linked to bath salts from January to June, The New York Times reported this week. During all of 2010, there were only 303 such calls.

Emergency-room alarms
What’s more, The Times reported alarming statements from emergency-room physicians who have treated patients for ingestion of bath salts containing MDPV or other psychoactive drugs.

A doctor in Panama City, Fla., for instance, treated a man whose temperature had risen to 107.5 degrees after snorting bath salts.

In Louisiana, some doctors resorted to using antipsychotic drugs to calm agitated patients who ingested bath salts.

An ER doctor in Phoenix told The Times that he had to administer general anesthesia to bath-salt users who were not calmed by heavy doses of sedatives.

Other news outlets have reported cases in which users mutilated their bodies or could not be subdued. In Seattle, an Army medic shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself after a freeway chase; autopsies showed that both had MDPV in their blood.

The products in question are not the benign concoctions of epsom salts, fragrant herbs or essential oils that have been sold for years and promoted as soothing additives to bath water.

The bath salts banned in Florida and 27 other states — branded with names such as Ivory Wave, Bliss, White Lightning, and Hurricane Charlie — contain chemicals that are substantially similar to illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and Ecstasy.

The addition of these chemicals is no accident; clearly, there is a market for them among people seeking to get high.

Depending on the form of the product and on the user, the bath salts are snorted or smoked. They can be purchased on the Internet or, in states where they are legal, at convenience stores, “head shops,” and gas stations; typically, a 50-milligram packet costs between $25 and $50.

Most of the packages are labeled “not for human consumption,” but there is no motivation for the manufacturers to add the chemicals to the product — other than to provide buyers with psychoactive drugs.

The “not for human consumption” warning has helped manufacturers — believed to be based in China and India — and distributors circumvent oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has, however, listed MDPV and similar chemicals as drugs “of concern” — a step required for making substances illegal. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York has filed legislation to add these drugs to the same controlled-substance classification as heroin and cocaine.

Federal failure
Some users and sellers of chemically laced bath salts contend the government is overreacting. The rising reports of poisonings and psychotic behavior suggest otherwise. If anything, the emergence of this threat to public health and safety points to the federal government’s failure to regulate products — from some dietary supplements and body-building aids to chemically laced bath salts — that contain synthetic drugs.

Congress should enable the FDA to routinely and quickly prevent manufacturers from evading regulations designed to to protect consumers and society. Until then, the rest of the nation should follow Florida and other states that have recognized these bath salts for what they are — powerful drugs.

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