Courts & Corrections

On video: Vermont bans “bath salts”

Gov. Peter Shumlin with Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. VTD/Taylor Dobbs
Gov. Peter Shumlin with Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. VTD/Taylor Dobbs

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.

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Eli Sherman

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  • Stop … take a deep breath … and think … how has this whole war on drugs worked so far? Will it work any better with “bath salts”?

    Governor Shumlin, you were hired in part to bring a new way of thinking to our state’s government. Giving in to the knee jerk “let’s make a lot of money by having another war on yet another product” response is some of the worst of the same ol’ same ol’.

    • David Longsmith

      Rama, have you read about the havoc this powder causes? Do you want Shumlin to bury his head in the sand and pretend this does not affect Vermonters? How is the state going to make money off this anyway? Are you aware of the damage this junk causes to the individual, their family and community, and the health care and police providers who have to deal with the behavior associated with this type of abuse?
      Sure, the War on Drugs is a failure, but you would prefer this be allowed for sale in our state??? How is that going to serve us??

      • David, you certainly take liberties with my comment.

        There are always alternatives. Unfortunately our various governments have an absolute love affair with making anything involving drugs a crime worthy of the worst of governmental violence – not only physical, but against our civil liberties, individual responsibilities and economic interests.

        We need to stop and think things through before we end up with yet one more instance of a cure that is worse than the disease.

        • David Longsmith

          So, what is your suggestion?
          eager to complain, short on answers…

          • So when I say “stop and think” that should be taken as challenge for me to come up with fully formed plan all on my own.

            I’m not buying that spiel.

            In the meantime I would start looking at countries that have successfully implemented harm reduction drug policies (Switzerland and Portugal would be perfectly good starting points).

            Also look at what public education combined with restrictions on commercial advertising can accomplish (it has worked quite well with cigarettes where we went from almost 50% of the population sucking smokes to about 20% in the course of one generation).

            How about making company’s that sell the products liable in civil court for injuries much as we hold bars and bartenders liable for some drunk driving injuries and damage.

            Hell … this may not even be as big a problem as the breathless drug warriors would have us believe … I don’t even know that.

            My ideas above are certainly not of necessity the best, and they are certainly not the only ones out there.

            But it beats the hell out of the insane action of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

  • Alex Barnham

    This is disturbing…our children are self-destructing.

  • Richard Lashoones

    Rama, give me your assessment of how have drug awareness/education efforts (schools, support groups, etc.)decreased the use of weed, crack, etc. There are now more home break-ins/invasions spurred by the user’s need to generate funds to buy more drugs. Education is not going to stem the flood of these drugs into the state. Despite the issue of second hand smoke, the smoker is more at risk than the public. I’m not aware of any home invasion spurred by a smokers need to buy smokes. Half the effort directed at smokers is to tax smokes to where only the real hardcore will pony-up with funnds for that packof cigarettes. I suure do not advocate legalizing bath salts and then taxing the hell out of them. Smoking rarely leads to paranoia, altered state of awareness and physical danger to the public. Of course the best solution is to give the druggies the stuff as long as they hit-up in an enclosed location to prevent injury to the general public and if they overdose and go to that big needle in the sky, then gradually the problem will resolve itself. Hold the bath salts dealers liable for the death of a third party caused by a user’s consumption of drugs isn’t going to bring closure to that third party’s family.

    Despite the eduation efforts regarding drinking and driving (crash unit demonstration, public service commercials, etc.) DUI is still a problem Yes, there has been a decrease in deaths that involve drinking and driving, but is the result of the education efforts or the state police getting drunk drivers off the road and behind bars before they can take an other person’s life? Have the penalties for drunk driving causing an accident that claims an other person’s life (imprisionment) been responsible?

    • I presented my brief evidence that processes other than a war on the American people we call a “war on drugs” will work – if you disagree you disagree.

      The evidence is beyond refute that the current methods aren’t working.