CLEVELAND, Ohio — A bill to stamp out the use of sought-after synthetic drugs — such as herbal incense and bath salts — now sits on President Barack Obama’s desk.
The “Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012” passed the Senate Tuesday and bans the drugs at a federal level.
The narcotics, commonly purchased at convenience stores and head shops, have incited savage violence from some users.
A Texas man chewed into his housemate’s dog earlier this month during an herbal incense-induced rampage. Last year in Washington, a man using bath salts shot his wife and suffocated his 5-year-old son before shooting himself.
The drugs have caused some to lose sight of their own humanity, spurring horrific acts across the country, said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a co-sponsor of the bill.
“These synthetic drugs that are on the market have devastated families and ruined the potential of a lot of young people,” said the Cincinnati-area Republican in an interview. “These are not ‘herbal incense’ or ‘bath salts.’ These are really dangerous chemical compounds that can ruin your chances in life.”
Herbal incense is not burned for its aroma. It is a chemically-laced substance resembling marijuana, ingested for the high it delivers. Adverse effects include acute psychosis, hallucinations and violence.
Synthetic bath salts are not meant for the tub even though they resemble the household product. They are crystalline forms of psychoactive chemicals, commonly MDPV and mephedrone. Ingesting bath salts can produce effects similar to herbal incense.
The Plain Dealer reported recently that hospitals and treatment centers in the area and around the country are treating a growing number of people who use the drugs. Portman said he used the story to inform the Senate of this during the passing of the Synthetic Drug Act.
Until the president signs the bill, herbal incense and bath salts will remain legal in many states, but not in Ohio.
The state outlawed the drugs last October, slowing distribution.
Just a few months ago however, the narcotics were rife in convenience stores on East 55th Street on Cleveland’s East Side.
“Everyone around here used to sell the stuff, including us,” said Cong Nguyen, who works at Rockcliff Market off East 55th.
In April, authorities raided the market and other nearby stores. More than $100,000 in synthetic drugs were seized, according to Cleveland police.
East 55th Street had been a popular destination for people looking to get a synthetic fix. Some even traveled from other counties to get it, said Nguyen.
The reality is, people don’t have to travel at all.
With just a few clicks, synthetic drugs can be purchased on the Internet.
Most online sellers advertise their products as “legal highs.” The offerings have names like “Zombie Killa,” “Mind Trip,” and “Miracle Blow.”
Freshsalts.com describes its “Faux-caine” product as an “extremely potent bath salt blend that causes euphoria, bliss and puts one in ‘the zone.’ ” It also says the product is “not for human consumption.”
The ambiguous labeling of synthetic drugs was key in keeping them legal. Calling them “herbal incense” and “bath salts,” and indicating they are not for human consumption, provided some lee from Food and Drug Administration scrutiny.
Authorities have caught on. The federal bill will block brick-and-mortar and online retailers from selling the volatile and misleading products.
Not only do the familiar names for these drugs contradict their purpose, the contents are widely inconsistent.
“We tested 20 bags of herbal incense that had the same label, and all of them had different ingredients,” said Capt. Brian Heffernan with the Cleveland Police Narcotics Unit. “You don’t ever know what you are getting. You have no idea what you are ingesting.”