By Nicole Houck, Contributing Writer
The PA General Assembly this week passed a Senate bill that would ban the sale and possession of bath salts, synthetic cocaine, synthetic marijuana, and 2-ce.
The bill passed unanimously in the House, and will now be sent back to the Senate for final vote before it passes on to the Governor. The bill can be enacted into law 60 days after it is passed.
Senate Bill 1006 will amend the Controlled Substances Act to classify bath salts as well as other synthetically produced drugs as controlled substances. This legislation would include Salvia Divinorum, Salvinorin A, Divinorin A, synthetic marijuana, and synthetic cocaine/heroin to the list of Schedule I controlled substances.
As of 2011, the use of bath salts has become more widely spread and were recently categorized as a “Drug of Concern” by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Bath salts are synthetic stimulants with effects similar to those of cocaine. This designer drug has been growing in popularity in Pennsylvania throughout the last year, and this is partly due to easy access users have to the drug. Many convenience stores as well as online retailers often sell bath salts. Companies have marketed the drugs as “bath salts,” labelling the packages with “Not for human consumption” in order to bypass
Bath salt products come in powder form and are taken through various methods: sniffing/snorting, oral ingestion, smoked, or injection. Bath salts have very adverse effects on the behavior and health of people who choose to abuse them. Effects of the drug include agitation, insomnia, irritability, dizziness, depression, paranoia, delusions, suicidal thoughts, seizures, and panic attacks. Users have also reported effects including impaired perception of reality, reduced motor control, and decreased ability to think clearly. A common result of the paranoia and depression induced by bath salt use is suicide.
The amount of calls to poison control centers regarding incidents with bath salts have increased in the past years. According to a May 2011 article from Time Magazine, in 2010 there were 302 calls to poison-control centers nationwide about bath salts. In just the first three months of 2011, there were 784 recorded phone calls. Additionally, there were roughly 1,500 bath salt related visits to emergency rooms in the first three months of 2011. In February alone, Scranton, PA had saw 13 of it’s own bath salt related emergency room visits.
In March, Senator Bob Casey published a letter urging the DEA to issue a ban on bath salts.
“A series of recent crimes and violent attacks by individuals using “bath salts” have shown that these drugs pose an imminent threat to public safety. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, U.S Poison Centers have taken 1,196 calls regarding “bath salts” already this year, up from 298 calls in 2010. Police in Scranton, Pennsylvania report that bath salts first appeared in the area in December. Since that time incidents related to “bath salts” requiring police response have increased rapidly. In one high profile case, a man using “bath salts” allegedly entered a monastery and stabbed a priest. Because “bath salts” pose a clear threat to public health, I urge you to exercise DEA’s emergency authority under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 to place MDPV and mephedrone in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act for up to one year,” Casey wrote.
Crime related to abuse of bath salts is also on the rise throughout Pennsylvania.
Clinton County District Attorney Michael Salisbury is in favor of the ban. He is among several who attempted to introduce a temporary local ban on the sale of bath salts.
“I am saddened by what I am seeing. We had a high-speed chase on Interstate 80 that eventually involved dozens of officers and led to the injury of one officer, along with risking the lives of many others and the public,” Salisbury said about the effects of bath salts on crime in his area.
Lancaster County has also seen its fair share of bath salt related crime. A noteable incident reported was a man suffering from paranoia induced hallucinations running into shops on a main strip shouting that someone was trying to kill him.
Blair County has seen one death so far this year as a result of bath salts. “People are jumping off the roofs of houses in Altoona [after using bath salts],” said Blair County Judge Jolene Kopriva.
Blair County has also been affected by several violent crimes as a result of bath salt use. In June, a man committed a robbery at knife point in Altoona, PA. The man called a taxi cab, pulled a kitchen knife on the driver, and robbed him. The man said he did it because he was addicted to bath salts.
In Huntingdon, PA a conflict involving bath salts escalated into a shoot out. Over fifty shots were fired during the altercation.
“The people at the scene and the people who have been charged have indicated that there was heavy use of bath salts over the last two days. It’s our hope that the Legislature will act quick and resolve this and put some teeth into a law that will stop this,” said Huntingdon County District Attorney George Zanic.
Many legislators have been supportive of the bill banning bath salts.
“As recently as three weeks ago, I heard complaints at the local hospital where patients were overdosing on these substances,” said state Representative Mario Scavello. “People are becoming addicted to these and walking into emergency rooms for treatment when they abuse them.”
“In the midst of a difficult budget year, I think we have all seen enough devastating headlines to make banning this synthetic drug a priority. With many families across our region and state affected by this drug, I am hopeful that this legislation will prevent future tragedies from occurring,” Sen. David Argall said.
“I’m pleased to see the legislature move quickly on such a terrible tragedy that has unfolded across the state. So many families have been impacted and this is the first step in ensuring we crack down on the sale and abuse of ‘bath salts’ in Pennsylvania,” said Argall.
“These new synthetic drugs are very powerful and their use is growing throughout the Commonwealth. I think this legislation is a common sense approach to protecting our communities,” Senator Elder Vogel said.
“I hope we can get this bill to the governor’s desk very soon. It’s imperative that we be proactive to stop the spread of these dangerous drugs,” Vogel added.
“People who have witnessed the effects of these substances have been begging us to immediately address this growing problem. This legislation would do just that,” said Marsico.
“Many individuals who have used bath salts have been hospitalized, become suicidal, threatened the lives of others, endangered the welfare of children and experienced severe hallucinations,” Representative Ronald Marsico said. “I am extremely pleased that we were able to move this legislation out of the House quickly. However, as I have said before, while we are waiting for this legislation to be enacted, I think it is the moral responsibility of business owners who are selling these bath salts to pull them off their shelves immediately in order to keep Pennsylvanians safe.”