Bath Salt Drugs Pose New Threat to California

Maya Sherne, Staff Writer

While the national government focuses its attention on overseas wars and the economy, California’s State Assembly is fighting a war on drugs, and on one drug in particular.  The latest designer drug, sold as “bath salts,” is causing a stir amongst California assembly members and families.

Bath salts are synthetic chemical stimulants that kindle the central nervous system.  Although these drugs are said to provoke a euphoric experience similar to that of marijuana, the side effects of this widespread stimulant are anything but ecstasy.

“This type of drug is extremely dangerous because it is made of amphetamines.” said a hot-line assistant of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Amphetamines, a common element in illegal substances that lift moods, can also cause permanent cell damage, and ultimately have detrimental physical and psychological effects.

Joseph T. Rannazzisi, a deputy assistant administrator of the office of diversion control, spoke at a hearing on controlled substances and public health.

“Individuals who use these types of products experience dangerous side effects, including: convulsion, anxiety attacks, dangerously elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, vomiting, and disorientation,” he said.

Additionally, bath salts can cause extreme paranoia, delusions, and psychotic episodes where victims have been seen to barricade and mutilate themselves. These drugs—which can be snorted, smoked, or injected—cause vivid illusions and paranoia.  The hallucinations combined with the agitated behavior of the user have contributed to one of the highest suicide rates associated with any legal drug.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, nationwide exposure to bath salts as of Aug. 31 had increased by more than 1,500 percent since 2010.

The Association, which received only 303 bath salt related calls in 2010, reached a peak of 4,720 calls starting in January. The fast spread of this drug has greatly concerned authorities nationwide.

This drug has serious and deadly risks, but because it is a legal drug sold anywhere from smoke shops to convenience stores, anyone can access it. There is no age restriction, and according to the Association, the majority of bath salts are bought by users in their late teens and early 20s.

Bath salts contain chemical properties similar to synthetic cocaine, making the side effects highly unpredictable.  These drugs are within the rules of the Federal Drug Administration because packets read “not for human consumption.”

“People can buy the bath salts because the components that make it up are all legal.” said Jake O’Neill, the senior district representative in the Chula Vista office of Ben Hueso. “Teenagers are able to go into a liquor store and buy bath salts, something they wouldn’t be able to do if it was illegal.”

A student of Hilltop High School in San Diego was surfing her Facebook page when she scrolled across a friend’s post on bath salts. This student’s mother grew concerned after looking at her daughter’s wall and contacted the office of California state assembly member Ben Hueso for an explanation as to what the bath salts truly were.

After reviewing the previously established assembly bill for “spice,” another synthetic drug nearly chemically identical to bath salts, Hueso decided that immediate action needed to be taken in order to prevent the dangers of bath salts. Thus, Assembly Bill 486 was written.

According to the California Bill Analysis, this bill “prohibits the sale, dispensing, distribution, administration, or giving or attempting to sell, dispense, furnish, administer or give, or possession for sale specified synthetic stimulants or specified synthetic stimulant derivatives.”  Failure to abide by this legislation would result in up to six months jail time, and a $1,000 fine. If this bill successfully passes, bath salts will be banned from any location in which they are manufactured or sold.

The term synthetic stimulants refers to “any material, compound, mixture or preparation which contains naphyrone or cathinone and has a stimulant effect on the central nervous system unless specifically excepted or contained within a pharmaceutical product approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.”

The greatest concern for the passing of this bill is that it could force the drug underground. Considering the danger of this drug, it seems likely that this bill will pass.

“We feel confident in the passing of this bill,” said O’Neill. “The governor has until Oct. 9 to make a decision.”

“Because of California’s complicated drug laws, there has been inconsistent prosecution for the distribution of these dangerous substances,” said Hueso.  “Assembly Bill 486 will remove any doubt as to whether these drugs are illegal in California and will give district attorneys and law enforcement the tools they need to ban the sale of these products from our neighborhoods.”