Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jul 2012
Source: Express-Times, The (PA)
Copyright: 2012 The Express-Times


Last week the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration kicked off an 
offensive against so-called designer drugs, confiscating bath salts 
and synthetic marijuana in raids that reached into Lehigh and 
Northampton counties. No arrests were made locally. DEA officials 
said they seized more than $36 million in cash and 4.9 million 
packets of drugs, and arrested 91 people in a crackdown that covered 
several states.

In Pennsylvania, more than 300,000 doses of synthetic drugs were 
confiscated, along with 50,000 pieces of drug paraphernalia and 
$250,000 in cash. Ordinarily that qualifies as a haul, but there are 
reasons to think that legislators and law enforcement are coming late 
to this game, and that this wave of drug production is just starting.

* Bath salts and related drugs can be imported in bulk from overseas, 
but they're also being synthesized in makeshift domestic labs, not 
unlike methamphetamine.

* Many states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have banned the 
most popular chemical compounds that go into the drugs; President 
Obama signed a federal ban July 10. The big question is whether 
anyone can construct a web large enough to counter chemists who tweak 
the drug formulas to come up with strains that fall outside the law. 
Last week a report by the Associated Press speculated that many 
versions of the drugs being seized -- and perhaps many about to show 
up -- may already be legally untouchable.

There's no question that bath salts and synthetic pot pose dangers 
for users and the people who have to deal with them. Police and 
emergency room staffers report that users are often feverish, 
paranoid and combative, sometimes requiring large doses of sedatives. 
Several deaths have been attributed to the drugs, and some users have 
attacked police and others trying to calm them.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 
6,100 calls about bath salt drugs last year, compared to 304 the 
previous year, and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of this 
year. That modest decline might be evidence that word is getting out 
about the dangers of bath salts, which may be the best hope to attack 
this plague.

Police, prosecutors and judges now have ample power to go after this 
problem -- assuming there's no hang-up with the identity of the drug 
- -- but the message has to get through to the retailers. Many of the 
seizures last week occurred at gas stations, convenience stores, 
smoke shops and other businesses. It's clear to everyone that bath 
salts with exotic names such as "K2" and "Vanilla Sky" aren't being 
bought by teens and young adults for fragrant bubble baths. The 
sellers should be next in line for a sting.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli addressed that 
issue after Wednesday's raids. "We're trying to spread the word to 
local businesses that these synthetic drugs are a violation of the 
law," he said.

Still, adding bath-salt users and small-time dealers to the growing 
list of captures in the "war on drugs" only creates another set of 
expensive problems in incarceration and treatment. And if retailers 
wise up, sales will go underground.

At some point, the "buyers beware" aspect of these drugs must play a 
leading role. The fact that most packets say "not for human 
consumption" should be a tip-off, but for some people, that gamble is 
the attraction.
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