Illegal Use of Bath Salts Still Posing Major Threat in Arizona

Much like cocaine, meth and PCP, bath salts give users a high that is both potent and addictive. Believed to have originated in China and India, the drug rose to popularity in the U.S. on the streets a few years ago. It is now commonly sold in smoke and head shops, convenience stores and online under innocuous names, including “plant food,” “Ivory Wave,” “glass cleaner” and “Vanilla Sky.”

A year after banning another dangerous designer drug, “spice,” state lawmakers this year set their sights on bath salts by adding seven ingredients to the state’s controlled-substances list. Despite Gov. Jan Brewer having signed a new bill into law to do just that, police say the law has done little to curb the growing number of incidents involving people high on the substance largely due to the fact that drug-makers are constantly tweaking their formulas to stay ahead of any potential bans. Doctors and police officers acknowledge that the number of bath salts cases are on the rise as more people smoke, snort or inject the synthetic white-powder drug, which can cause hallucinations, psychosis, paranoia, agitation, combativeness, violent behavior, high body temperature, kidney failure, cardiac arrest and death.

Lawmakers say they recognize the problem but are struggling to deal with it. They’ve explored such options as business sanctions and creating a law that covers analogues of banned substances. They also are focusing on educating the public about the dangers the drugs pose to dissuade people from using them. Narcotic and dangerous drugs are banned in Arizona based on their chemical compositions. It is up to lawmakers to identify chemicals used to make a drug and then outlaw those chemicals in statute. A person suspected of manufacturing or trafficking in illegal drugs can be charged only if a substance contains a banned chemical. The major threat facing lawmakers, despite their efforts to halt the manufacturing process of such chemicals is that each time substances have been banned, highly determined manufacturers have tweaked their compounds to use different legal chemicals that create the same effects.

Legislators said the law has done what it was intended to do: ban the chemicals used to make bath salts at the time of the law’s passage. But because of the elusive nature of the components used to make the drugs, it has not given law enforcement the capability to successfully prosecute people who buy, sell, use or possess newer versions of bath salts.

The bottom line is that lawmakers have simply been unable to pass legislation to address the larger issue of the constantly evolving designer drugs. They’re still trying to find a way to outflank bath salts manufacturers by permanently banning the drug in all the different forms it may take. Meanwhile, bath salts sadly continue to exact a human toll.

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