Gov. Shumlin announced at a press conference that he is placing an emergency ban on a new popular designer drug known as “bath salts” until the Department of Health can obtain a permanent legal remedy.
Bath salts, which law enforcement officials compared with crack cocaine, are a popular new designer drug. The chemical intoxicant has swept the nation and is sold legally at head shops and even some grocery stores.
Banned in 34 other states, bath salts are a synthetic stimulant also known as mephedrone or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, among others, that are snorted, injected, smoked or mixed with food or drink.
“These are substances that serve no useful purpose. They are not regulated, not as drugs or nutritional supplements,” Harry Chen, commissioner of the Department of Health said. “Given the fact that they are so dangerous and can cause death and suicide, we thought it made sense for Vermont to take this action.”
According to Chen, the Vermont Board of Health, the Vermont Board of Pharmacy and the Vermont Board of Medical Practice submitted the emergency rule to the secretary of state’s office to go into effect immediately until the state can implement a permanent ban, which must be approved as a permanent rule by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.
When ingested, bath salts “can create symptoms, including agitation, psychosis, chest pain, high blood pressure, stimulatory effects and ongoing suicidal impulses and action,” according to a release from the governor’s office.
Bath salts are sold under the brand names Ivory Snow, White Girl, Red Dove and Special Silk to name a few.
“The drug gives a temporary high of 15 minutes to three hours,” Shumlin said. “It’s not a huge problem yet, but we’re being proactive.”
Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public safety, said the Vermont state police suspect drug users in Vermont are mixing bath salts with other drugs, such as Ecstasy.
Bath salt consumption, he said, has led to public safety issues in other states and he anticipates it would lead to the kind of spinoff crimes – burglaries, armed robberies and accidents – that the department has seen with heroin and meth.
“This type of stimulant rapidly increases blood pressure,” Flynn said. “It’s similar to crack cocaine.”
Vermont State Police Col. Thomas L’Esperance said there has been just one reported case of bath salts in Vermont but there is no test to determine whether individuals have taken the drug; the only way the officials could know for sure is if individuals were to tell them. The drug has most likely been dubbed bath salts because it comes in a white powdery form similar to the more common bath salt used in homes.
The governor said “you will not find these bath salts at Bed, Bath and Beyond.” The drugs are typically sold in head shops and are labeled “not for human consumption” to skirt regulations and laws in Vermont.
Vermont, along with the rest of the United States, is experiencing a similar problem with synthetic cannabis. In March, the Drug Enforcement Agency put five chemicals that ‘mimicked’ the effects of marijuana on a similar emergency banned list. By the beginning of July, manufactures of the chemicals had changed the chemical strands slightly and were legally selling products in Vermont stores.
Under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, similar drugs or “designer drugs” are also illegal if they mimic a drug listed under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Schedule 1 or 2. The law is only applicable if the drug sold is used for human consumption; distributors can sell “marked products” through that loophole in the law, making policy makers’ and law enforcement’s jobs challenging.
Flynn said the bath salts were to be classified as Schedule 1 drugs.
“We have to see what happens with it,” Flynn said. “The first step we have to take is to be proactive, and if there are changes out there, we will be reactive.”
Shumlin agrees it is important to attack bath salts with a pre-emptive approach as it has been a problem in communities in neighboring states, including Bangor, Maine.
“We’ve kind of entered a new realm here in drug abuse,” Shumlin said. “This isn’t your grandmother’s bath salts. I’ll be honest with you. it’s also not your grandfather’s homegrown.”
Editors note: Anne Galloway contributed to this report.