TPD raids gas station, arrests three for distributing K2 police say caused 19 possible overdoses


cops

The raid of a Tulsa convenience store leads to three arrests for the distribution of K2 that police say caused multiple overdoses Tuesday.

The owner of Phillips 66 at 11th and Fulton, Abdurrahim Rahim, was arrested at the store Tuesday night.

Police say they’ve been able to link the K2 that’s caused 19 possible overdoses to his store.

Rahim is the third person taken into custody.

TPD also arrested Bamph Hunter, 29, who they say is the main suspect in this case. Thomas Collishaw, 21, was also arrested.

Investigators say they are working on another warrant for a fourth person involved with the drugs.

Tulsa Police say this K2 is known as Pink Bubble Gum.

And they say it was distributed for free to the nine who overdosed outside of Iron Gate, a downtown soup kitchen.

Investigators say the dealers gave it away to the homeless as a tactic to get them addicted.

“Not only is it illegal but it’s illegal for a reason. It does have damaging effects. They’re just not quiet sure, the medical field, from my understanding, they’re just not sure the total damage this can cause, (be)cause it’s so new,” said Tulsa Fire Department Captain Jerry Benefield.

According to WebMD.com, K2 is described as a “synthetic marijuana.” The description goes on to say that it contains man-made chemicals being sprayed on leaves that “can be smoked.”

TPD says this Pink Bubble Gum is the most potent K2 they have ever seen.

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The battle against bath salts


People are inventing so many new, legal ways to get high that lawmakers can’t keep up.

So law enforcers are taking new steps to target these synthetic drugs.

Those steps include coordinated raids. The latest was Wednesday, when federal agents arrested more than 90 people in a nationwide sweep of synthetic drug producers, distributors and retailers — including a number in Pennsylvania.

Across the country, agents seized more than five million packets of finished designer synthetic drugs, including substances marketed as bath salts, spice, incense, K-2 and plant food, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

They also recovered more than $36 million in cash in the sweep, code named Operation Log Jam.

“We struck a huge blow to the synthetic drug industry,” said James Chaparro, the acting director of the Office of Homeland Security Investigations. “The criminal organizations behind the importation, distribution and selling of these synthetic drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits.”

In Pennsylvania, agents searched residences, convenience stores, gas stations, smoke shops and other similar businesses in several counties, including Montgomery and Philadelphia.

They seized more than 300,000 individual doses of synthetic marijuana and illegal bath salts, with an estimated street value of $1.25 million. They also recovered more than 50,000 pieces of drug paraphernalia related to the smoking or consumption of synthetic drugs and about $250,000 in cash and assets, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has seen a surge in the use of synthetic drugs made of legal chemicals that mimic the dangerous effects of cocaine, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants.

The drugs are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country.

Law enforcement officials refer to the drugs collectively as “bath salts,” though they have nothing in common with the fragrant toiletries used to moisturize skin.

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law earlier this month that bans the sale, production and possession of more than two dozen of the most common bath salt drugs. But health professionals say that there are so many varieties of the drugs that U.S. lawmakers are always playing catch up.

“The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Emergencies related to the drugs have surged: The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from just 304 the year before — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

In Montgomery County, coroner Dr. Walter Hoffman said four deaths have been attributed to the use of bath salt drugs — including a 28-year-old man and 15-year-old girl from Pottstown who were killed in a motor vehicle accident. All four people who died from the drugs were under 30 years old, he said. Bucks County Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell said that no deaths in Bucks County have been directly attributed to bath salt use.

A Quakertown father has attributed his son’s suicide to mental health problems following bath salt use. And authorities said an Upper Moreland teen was severely injured when he jumped from the top level of the Willow Grove Park mall parking garage after smoking an unidentified synthetic drug.

Many states have banned some of the most common bath salt drugs. For instance, in June 2011, Pennsylvania legislators banned the possession, use and sale of synthetic “designer” drugs.

But while U.S. laws prohibit the sale or possession of all substances that mimic illegal drugs, that’s only true if federal prosecutors can show they’re intended for human consumption. People who make these drugs work around this by printing “not for human consumption” on packets.

Despite the bans, bath salts producers are constantly tweaking their recipes to come up with new drugs that aren’t covered by state or federal laws. In fact, Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, says there are so many different drugs out there that it’s almost impossible to know what people have ingested, or how long the effects will last.

“Cocaine is cocaine and meth is meth. We know what these things do,” he said. “But with these new drugs, every time the chemist alters the chemical structure, all bets are off.”

These drugs include synthetic marijuana substitutes, also known as “herbal incense.”

At one Doylestown store, the packages were marked “not for human consumption.” When the owner was asked if she knew people smoked the product, she said she doesn’t know anything about what customers do with it.

A man leaving the store with a vial of the synthetic “incense” in his hand said he smokes it because he’s on probation for a DUI charge.

“Before (my DUI), I would not have tried any of this stuff,” said the man, who asked that he not be identified. “Even switching over to this stuff now that I can’t smoke weed is demeaning to me.”

The most common bath salt drugs, like MDPV and mephedrone, were first developed in pharmaceutical research laboratories, though they were never approved for medical use. During the last decade, they became popular as party drugs in Europe. As law enforcement began cracking down on the problem there, the drugs spread across the Atlantic Ocean.

The most dangerous synthetic drugs are stimulants that affect levels of both dopamine and serotonin, brain chemicals that affect mood and perception. Users, who typically smoke or snort the powder-based drugs, may experience a surge in energy, fever and delusions of invincibility.

Hospital emergency rooms, doctors and law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled to control bath salt drug users who often are feverish and paranoid. Hospitals in Bucks and Montgomery counties said they’ve had cases of suspected bath salts abuse, but they aren’t tracked separately from other drug overdoses.

Drugs Stay Legal After ‘Bath Salts’ Ban


  • bath salts.jpg
    AP Photo/The Patriot-News, Chris Knight

It’s the same old story.  People making up new ways to get high while lawmakers attempt to catch up to the ever-changing, ever-growing drug culture.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has seen a surge in the use of synthetic drugs made of legal chemicals that mimic the dangerous effects of cocaine, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants.

The drugs are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items like bath salts, incense and plant food. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country. Law enforcement officials refer to the drugs collectively as “bath salts,” though they have nothing in common with the fragrant toiletries used to moisturize skin.

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law earlier this month that bans the sale, production and possession of more than two dozen of the most common bath salt drugs. But health professionals say lawmakers cannot keep pace with bath salt producers, who constantly adjust their chemical formulations to come up with new synthetic drugs that aren’t covered by new laws. Experts who have studied the problem estimate there are more than 100 different bath salt chemicals in circulation.

“The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

There are no back alleys or crack houses in America’s latest drug epidemic. The problem involves potent substances that amateur chemists make, package and sell in stores under brands like “Ivory Wave,” ”Vanilla Sky” and “Bliss” for as little as $15. Emergencies related to the drugs have surged: The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from just 304 the year before — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

The problem for lawmakers is that it’s difficult to crack down on the drugs. U.S. laws prohibit the sale or possession of all substances that mimic illegal drugs, but only if federal prosecutors can show that they are intended for human use. People who make bath salts and similar drugs work around this by printing “not for human consumption” on virtually every packet.

Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency, said the intended use for bath salts is clear.

“Everyone knows these are drugs to get high, including the sellers,” she said.

Many states have banned some of the most common bath salts, which are typically sold by small businesses like convenience stores, tobacco shops and adult book stores. For instance, West Virginia legislators banned the bath salt drug MDPV last year, making it a misdemeanor to sell, buy or possess the synthetic drug. Conviction means up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Stephanie Mitchell, assistant manager of The Den, a tobacco and paraphernalia shop in Morgantown, W.Va., said the store hasn’t sold bath salts in the six months that she’s worked there. But strung-out users still come in and ask for them.

“They’re pretty … cracked out, I guess would be a good word,” said Mitchell, 21, a student at West Virginia University. “They’re just kind of not all there. They’re kind of sketchy people.”

Mitchell says she wouldn’t sell bath salts even if she had them, “because it’s horrible, and I could get in trouble for it.”

Despite the bans, bath salts producers are constantly tweaking their recipes to come up with new drugs that aren’t covered by local laws. In fact, Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, says there are so many different drugs out there that it’s almost impossible to know what people have ingested, or how long the effects will last.

“Cocaine is cocaine and meth is meth. We know what these things do,” he said. “But with these new drugs, every time the chemist alters the chemical structure, all bets are off.”

The Spread

The most common bath salt drugs, like MDPV and mephedrone, were first developed in pharmaceutical research laboratories, though they were never approved for medical use. During the last decade they became popular as party drugs at European raves and dance clubs. As law enforcement began cracking down on the problem there, the drugs spread across the Atlantic Ocean.

Poison control centers in the U.S. began tracking use of the drugs in 2010. The majority of the early reports of drug use were clustered in Southern states like Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. But the problem soon spread across the country.

The financial lure for small-time drugmakers is enticing. The drugs can be cheaply imported from China or India, and then easily packaged under local brands. For example, bath salts sold in Louisiana carry regional names like Hurricane Charlie or Bayou.

The widespread availability of the drugs in stores is equally alluring for drug users: they can get a cheap high similar to that of illegal drugs by walking to a corner store.

The most dangerous synthetic drugs are stimulants that affect levels of both dopamine and serotonin, brain chemicals that affect mood and perception. Users, who typically smoke or snort the powder-based drugs, may experience a surge in energy, fever and delusions of invincibility.

Use of these drugs has spread across the country with reports stretching from Maine to California. There are no official federal estimates on deaths connected with the drugs, many of which do not show up on typical drug tests. But police reports have implicated the drugs in several cases.

Packets of “Lady Bubbles” bath salts, for instance, were found on Sgt. David Franklyn Stewart last April after the solider shot and killed his wife and himself during a car chase with law enforcement near Olympia, Wash.

The chase began when Stewart sped past a police patrol car at 6 a.m. The police trooper pursued for 10 miles and reported seeing the driver raise a hand to his head, then heard a shot and saw the driver slump over. The next day police found the couple’s 5-year-old son dead in their home; he had been suffocated with a plastic bag at least 24 hours earlier.

Another death involving bath salts played out in Covington, La. Police reported that Dickie Sanders, 21, shot himself in the head Nov. 11, 2010 while his parents were asleep.

His father, Dr. Richard Sanders, said his son had snorted “Cloud 9” bath salts and endured three days of intermittent delirium, at one point attempting to cut his own throat. As he continued to have visions, his physician father tried to calm him. But the elder Sanders said that as he slept, his son went into another room and shot himself.

What’s Ahead

Hospital emergency rooms, doctors and law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled to control bath salt drug users who often are feverish and paranoid that they are being attacked. Doctors say users often turn up naked because bath salts raise their body temperature so much that they strip off their clothing.

Cookeville Regional Medical Center in Tennessee has treated 160 people suspected of taking bath salts since 2010. Dr. Sullivan Smith, who works there, said people on the drugs become combative, and it can take four or five health professionals to subdue them. In some cases, he said, doctors have to use prescription sedatives that are typically reserved for surgery.

Smith recalls one man who had been running for more than 24 hours because he believed the devil was chasing him with an ax. By the time police brought him to the hospital, he was dehydrated and covered in blood from running through thorny underbrush.

“We’re seeing extreme agitation, hallucinations that are very vivid, paranoia and some really violent behavior, so it’s a real crisis for us,” Smith said. “We sedate the living daylights out of them. And we’re talking doses on the order of 10 or 20 times what you would give for a painful procedure.”

To control the spread of the problem, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued a temporary ban in October on three of the most common drugs — mephedrone, methylone and MDPV. That ban became permanent under the bill signed by Obama on July 10.

Under the law, anyone convicted of selling, making or possessing 28 synthetic drugs, including bath salts, will face penalties similar to those for dealing traditional drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Those on the front lines say the legislation is a good start. But they don’t expect new laws to dramatically curb use of bath salts in the near term.

“The problem is these drugs are changing and I’m sure they’re going to find some that are a little bit different chemically so they don’t fall under the law,” said Dr. Smith, the Tennessee doctor. “Is it adequate to name five or 10 or even 20? The answer is no, they’re changing too fast.”

Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/health/2012/07/26/drugs-stay-legal-after-bath-salts-ban/#ixzz22DSc4GkX

The battle against bath salts


People are inventing so many new, legal ways to get high that lawmakers can’t keep up.

So law enforcers are taking new steps to target these synthetic drugs.

Those steps include coordinated raids. The latest was Wednesday, when federal agents arrested more than 90 people in a nationwide sweep of synthetic drug producers, distributors and retailers — including a number in Pennsylvania.

Across the country, agents seized more than five million packets of finished designer synthetic drugs, including substances marketed as bath salts, spice, incense, K-2 and plant food, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

They also recovered more than $36 million in cash in the sweep, code named Operation Log Jam.

“We struck a huge blow to the synthetic drug industry,” said James Chaparro, the acting director of the Office of Homeland Security Investigations. “The criminal organizations behind the importation, distribution and selling of these synthetic drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits.”

In Pennsylvania, agents searched residences, convenience stores, gas stations, smoke shops and other similar businesses in several counties, including Montgomery and Philadelphia.

They seized more than 300,000 individual doses of synthetic marijuana and illegal bath salts, with an estimated street value of $1.25 million. They also recovered more than 50,000 pieces of drug paraphernalia related to the smoking or consumption of synthetic drugs and about $250,000 in cash and assets, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has seen a surge in the use of synthetic drugs made of legal chemicals that mimic the dangerous effects of cocaine, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants.

The drugs are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country.

Law enforcement officials refer to the drugs collectively as “bath salts,” though they have nothing in common with the fragrant toiletries used to moisturize skin.

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law earlier this month that bans the sale, production and possession of more than two dozen of the most common bath salt drugs. But health professionals say that there are so many varieties of the drugs that U.S. lawmakers are always playing catch up.

“The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Emergencies related to the drugs have surged: The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from just 304 the year before — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

In Montgomery County, coroner Dr. Walter Hoffman said four deaths have been attributed to the use of bath salt drugs — including a 28-year-old man and 15-year-old girl from Pottstown who were killed in a motor vehicle accident. All four people who died from the drugs were under 30 years old, he said. Bucks County Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell said that no deaths in Bucks County have been directly attributed to bath salt use.

A Quakertown father has attributed his son’s suicide to mental health problems following bath salt use. And authorities said an Upper Moreland teen was severely injured when he jumped from the top level of the Willow Grove Park mall parking garage after smoking an unidentified synthetic drug.

Many states have banned some of the most common bath salt drugs. For instance, in June 2011, Pennsylvania legislators banned the possession, use and sale of synthetic “designer” drugs.

But while U.S. laws prohibit the sale or possession of all substances that mimic illegal drugs, that’s only true if federal prosecutors can show they’re intended for human consumption. People who make these drugs work around this by printing “not for human consumption” on packets.

Despite the bans, bath salts producers are constantly tweaking their recipes to come up with new drugs that aren’t covered by state or federal laws. In fact, Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, says there are so many different drugs out there that it’s almost impossible to know what people have ingested, or how long the effects will last.

“Cocaine is cocaine and meth is meth. We know what these things do,” he said. “But with these new drugs, every time the chemist alters the chemical structure, all bets are off.”

These drugs include synthetic marijuana substitutes, also known as “herbal incense.”

At one Doylestown store, the packages were marked “not for human consumption.” When the owner was asked if she knew people smoked the product, she said she doesn’t know anything about what customers do with it.

A man leaving the store with a vial of the synthetic “incense” in his hand said he smokes it because he’s on probation for a DUI charge.

“Before (my DUI), I would not have tried any of this stuff,” said the man, who asked that he not be identified. “Even switching over to this stuff now that I can’t smoke weed is demeaning to me.”

The most common bath salt drugs, like MDPV and mephedrone, were first developed in pharmaceutical research laboratories, though they were never approved for medical use. During the last decade, they became popular as party drugs in Europe. As law enforcement began cracking down on the problem there, the drugs spread across the Atlantic Ocean.

The most dangerous synthetic drugs are stimulants that affect levels of both dopamine and serotonin, brain chemicals that affect mood and perception. Users, who typically smoke or snort the powder-based drugs, may experience a surge in energy, fever and delusions of invincibility.

Hospital emergency rooms, doctors and law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled to control bath salt drug users who often are feverish and paranoid. Hospitals in Bucks and Montgomery counties said they’ve had cases of suspected bath salts abuse, but they aren’t tracked separately from other drug overdoses.

 

 

Legal but Dangerous: Synthetic drug causing problems in Casa Grande


The “spice” container reads: “Warning This Product is Not For Human Consumption.” It’s marketed as incense, herbs or potpourri, but you won’t find it at your local home or candle store. You’ll find this spice at the local convenience and liquor stores, gas stations and smoke shops.The problem with this dangerous drug is so big that President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 in early July. The law bans synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs like “bath salts,” which are commonly sold as plant food. They have nothing in common with the toiletries used to soften skin.

But the manufacturers simply change the formula slightly to stay one step ahead of the law.

No numbers are yet available for emergency calls resulting from using spice, but the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported more than 6,100 emergency calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from just 304 in 2010 — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

What exactly is spice?

“People say that it’s synthetic marijuana,” said Cindy Schaider, executive director of the Casa Grande Alliance. “It’s not marijuana — in fact that’s part of the danger. People in the first place erroneously believe marijuana is safe — which it’s not — but then if marijuana is safe, then synthetic marijuana would be safe. Neither one is safe, but spice is a really dangerous drug.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines spice as a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as safe, legal alternatives to that drug.

Spice looks like dried grass clippings or shredded plant materials, but it contains chemical additives responsible for mind-altering effects that have been linked to violent behavior across the United States.

According to the National Association for Addiction Professionals, there are two receptors in the human brain that react to cannabinoids. One reduces pain and the other allows people to “get high.” Synthetic or natural substances used to get high can have many other effects on humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, disassociation, racing thoughts, hallucinations, rapid pulse (tachycardia) and death/suicide.

“The chemical in marijuana stimulates the part of the brain called the cannabinoid receptor and that is what gives them the feeling of intoxication,” Schaider said. “Spice has synthetically created a similar chemical — they spray it on these leaves so when you smoke it, it stimulates that part of your brain.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was able to get five of the major chemicals banned for a one-year period but companies that produce spice are constantly reformulating the chemicals to stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

What smokers say

It’s legal to buy yet everyone I interviewed didn’t want to provide a real name.

“James,” 45, smokes spice every day. “I’ve been smoking it for a couple years — it’s off the chain!” James said. “It’s awesome — for one thing it doesn’t show up on my job’s drug screen. I operate heavy equipment and am drug tested frequently.” James was constantly shifting and appeared nervous, while beads of sweat appeared on his face, despite the fact the interview was conducted in an air-conditioned building.

“You get the same effect as marijuana but you don’t get as sleepy or hallucinate — you get a high but it stops sooner — you stay high for an hour or two. I roll mine in a flavored blunt — try to cover up the taste.”

 

Mom, 40, and Daughter, 19, smoke spice together. This particular day they bought 10 grams of spice, the volume equivalent of $30 in marijuana. “We smoke spice because marijuana is too expensive,” they said.

Mom works in the behavioral health department at a Florence correctional facility. “Not only that but my job drug screens and this isn’t detectable. I’m a little scared and nervous about the things I’ve heard about it though,” she said.

“How people are ending up in diapers or losing their hair or have internal bleeding.” But that doesn’t stop them from using it. “It’s almost the equivalent of smoking marijuana,” Mom said. “Except this is a little more intense — it’s a quicker high but it goes away quicker too. There have been times when I smoked it and I’m sitting down — I have to literally think about what I’m going to do even if it’s just to go to the bathroom — I have to plan it out because I feel like I’m about to fall.”

Drivers under the influence of the drug may face charges of driving while impaired, said Officer Thomas Anderson of the Casa Grande Police Department.

Boyfriend, 28, and Girlfriend, 25, smoke spice regularly.

“I’ve smoked it quite a few times,” Boyfriend said. “It gives you a good high for 15 to 20 minutes. I’ve smoked some that has made me hallucinate — pretty wild.”

Girlfriend said she doesn’t believe it makes people sick.

“I think it’s just mass hysteria — it’s the legal way of smoking marijuana,” she said.

“It’s all a conspiracy made up by the government,” said Boyfriend. However, “I heard people died from it — that makes me nervous.”

Why do they sell it?

It’s legal to sell but the store owners don’t want to use their names.

One Casa Grande smoke shop owner said he didn’t know anything about it when asked if it was dangerous.

“It says not for human consumption,” he commented. “You seem to know more than I do about it.” Other questions received an answer of “no comment.”

A spokeswoman at Smoke’m, 1397 E. Florence Blvd., said the store sells spice as “exotic potpourri.” She said people are using it as synthetic marijuana. Her store doesn’t advertise the product and keeps it hidden behind the counter because children sometimes come into the store with parents.

“It’s [spice] not for human consumption — but it’s in my top six sellers — it’s very common. One of my employees got sick off the old stuff and he had to take a couple of days off from work — flu-like symptoms — it’s not for human consumption,” she said. The owner said she believes the drug will become illegal to sell eventually.

An employee at a liquor store in Casa Grande said she wouldn’t smoke it. She said the store has at least three regular customers, including one man who buys $30 a day in spice — that’s $900 per month.

All the stores I spoke with said they only sell the second generation of spice. However, one customer said he knew of one store that still had the original stuff — you just need to know how to ask for it.

After the first generation of spice and its chemical makeup were made illegal, developers of the product tweaked the molecular structure to avoid prosecution.

One family’s experience

Joe Rodriguez, 46, of Stanfield said he found out his 25-year-old son was smoking spice in November 2011.

“I didn’t know until I went through his room and found a little jar with a screw-on lid,” Rodriguez said. “I asked him, what is this?”

The son told him it was a legal form of cannabis since he couldn’t smoke pot at work due to drug testing.

Rodriguez said he noticed his son’s habits change — from the way he dressed to cleaning up his room.

“Stuff around the house started coming up missing — a PS3 I won at work, a watch and some other stuff,” he said. “I don’t know what he did with it — he just said he needed it. He acted totally different.”

The son had graduated from college with a computer science degree.

“This was a kid who could sit down, look at a computer and say ‘this is the problem’ without even touching it and now he’s forgetting it. My son taught me how to use a computer — he knows how to break them down, he knows code, he knows DOS. If you would have met him before he started smoking spice, he was respectful and a good kid.”

The son is now in the county jail on a misdemeanor charge for failure to appear in court. Rodriguez said one night his son got so angry he threw a speaker at his face, causing Rodriguez to need medical attention under his right eye. The son is scheduled to be released from jail later this month.

“Now he thinks somebody is following him, somebody’s bugging the house — he’s just paranoid,” he said. “This kid used to build robots in high school — this kid was smart.”

Rodriguez is worried the drug caused some permanent damage to his son.

“I know he’s not going to be the same,” he said. “But I’m hoping that he’ll stop it and move forward with his life because he’s a good kid.”

Affecting the community

“I’m really concerned about spice,” Schaider said. “We are part of the Pinal County Substance Abuse Council and put out a brochure each year about drug trends. This year our brochure is about spice and it’s perfectly legal to buy spice.”

Most employers screen with a general five-panel test, referred to as a NIDA-5. This standard test provides rapid results if marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines/methamphetamines, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP) are detected in the urine.

Donna McBride, spokeswoman for Pinal County Juvenile Court Services, said that last year the county was offered free testing for spice for all probationers.

“The numbers were quite high,” she said. “There is a specific test for spice — it’s quite frankly rather costly. If we have a probation officer that suspects a kid might be using this stuff, then they can request an additional testing.”

“When we test­ — we find kids using because it’s easily accessible,” she said. “Have we seen it increase? Yes, because it’s like a new fad — something that kids are going to gravitate toward — something new to try.”

McBride said that if the test comes back positive for spice, the probation officer sits down with the juvenile and the family to discuss counseling information and come up with a plan to help the juvenile. The juvenile is retested at a later date and faces consequences if the result is positive.

“If we start with this town, this county — and stop the sale of it,” Rodriguez said. “These kids are not going to drive to Phoenix to go get it. We can put a dent in stopping them from ruining our kids’ lives — or anybody’s lives.”

McBride offered up one way for the community to be more responsible.

“If you’re a business owner and you do drug testing, make sure that your drug test includes those drugs that are pertinent to our area, which includes spice and bath salts,” she said.

Many drugs remain legal after ‘bath salts’ ban


People are inventing so many new, legal ways to get high that lawmakers can’t seem to keep up.

 

Over the past two years, the U.S. has seen a surge in the use of synthetic drugs made of legal chemicals that mimic the dangerous effects of cocaine, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants.

 

The drugs are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items like bath salts, incense and plant food. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country. Law enforcement officials refer to the drugs collectively as “bath salts,” though they have nothing in common with the fragrant toiletries used to moisturize skin.

 

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law earlier this month that bans the sale, production and possession of more than two dozen of the most common bath salt drugs. But health professionals say that there are so many different varieties of the drugs that U.S. lawmakers are merely playing catch up.

 

“The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

 

There are no back alleys or crack houses in America’s latest drug epidemic.

 

The problem involves potent substances that amateur chemists make, package and sell in stores under brands like “Ivory Wave,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Bliss” for as little as $15. Emergencies related to the drugs have surged: The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from just 304 the year before — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

 

The problem for lawmakers is that it’s difficult to crack down on the drugs. U.S. laws prohibit the sale or possession of all substances that mimic illegal drugs, but only if federal prosecutors can show that they are intended for human use. People who make bath salts and similar drugs work around this by printing “not for human consumption” on virtually every packet.

 

Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency, said the intended use for bath salts is clear.

 

“Everyone knows these are drugs to get high, including the sellers,” she said.

 

Many states have banned some of the most common bath salts, which are typically sold by small businesses like convenience stores, tobacco shops and adult book stores. For instance, West Virginia legislators banned the bath salt drug MDPV last year, making it a misdemeanor to sell, buy or possess the synthetic drug. Conviction means up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

Stephanie Mitchell, assistant manager of The Den, a tobacco and paraphernalia shop in Morgantown, W.Va., said the store hasn’t sold bath salts in the six months that she’s worked there. But strung-out users still come in and ask for them.

 

“They’re pretty … cracked out, I guess would be a good word,” said Mitchell, 21, a student at West Virginia University. “They’re just kind of not all there. They’re kind of sketchy people.”

 

Mitchell says she wouldn’t sell bath salts even if she had them, “because it’s horrible, and I could get in trouble for it.”

 

Despite the bans, bath salts producers are constantly tweaking their recipes to come up with new drugs that aren’t covered by local laws. In fact, Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, says there are so many different drugs out there that it’s almost impossible to know what people have ingested, or how long the effects will last.

 

“Cocaine is cocaine and meth is meth. We know what these things do,” he said. “But with these new drugs, every time the chemist alters the chemical structure, all bets are off.”

 

 

 

The spread

 

The most common bath salt drugs, like MDPV and mephedrone, were first developed in pharmaceutical research laboratories, though they were never approved for medical use. During the last decade they became popular as party drugs at European raves and dance clubs. As law enforcement began cracking down on the problem there, the drugs spread across the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Poison control centers in the U.S. began tracking use of the drugs in 2010. The majority of the early reports of drug use were clustered in southern states like Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. But the problem soon spread across the country.

 

The financial lure for small-time drugmakers is enticing. The drugs can be cheaply imported from China or India, and then easily packaged under local brands. For example, bath salts sold in Louisiana carry regional names like “Hurricane Charlie” or “Bayou.”

 

The widespread availability of the drugs in stores is equally alluring for drug users: they can get a cheap high similar to that of illegal drugs by walking to a corner store.

 

The most dangerous synthetic drugs are stimulants that affect levels of both dopamine and serotonin, brain chemicals that affect mood and perception. Users, who typically smoke or snort the powder-based drugs, may experience a surge in energy, fever and delusions of invincibility.

 

Use of these drugs has spread across the country with reports stretching from Maine to California. There are no official federal estimates on deaths connected with the drugs, many of which do not show up on typical drug tests. But police reports have implicated the drugs in several cases.

 

Packets of “Lady Bubbles” bath salts, for instance, were found on Sgt. David Franklyn Stewart last April after the solider shot and killed his wife and himself during a car chase with law enforcement near Olympia, Wash.

 

The chase began when Stewart sped past a police patrol car at 6 a.m. The police trooper pursued for 10 miles and reported seeing the driver raise a hand to his head, then heard a shot and saw the driver slump over. The next day police found the couple’s 5-year-old son dead in their home; he had been suffocated with a plastic bag at least 24 hours earlier.

 

Another death involving bath salts played out in Covington, La. Police reported that Dickie Sanders, 21, shot himself in the head Nov. 11, 2010 while his parents were asleep.

 

His father, Dr. Richard Sanders, said his son had snorted “Cloud 9” bath salts and endured three days of intermittent delirium, at one point attempting to cut his own throat. As he continued to have visions, his physician father tried to calm him. But the elder Sanders said that as he slept, his son went into another room and shot himself.

 

 

 

What’s ahead

 

Hospital emergency rooms, doctors and law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled to control bath salt drug users who often are feverish and paranoid that they are being attacked. Doctors say users often turn up naked because bath salts raise their body temperature so much that they strip off their clothing.

 

Cookeville Regional Medical Center in Tennessee has treated 160 people suspected of taking bath salts since 2010. Dr. Sullivan Smith, who works there, said people on the drugs become combative, and it can take four or five health professionals to subdue them.

 

In some cases, he said, doctors have to use prescription sedatives that are typically reserved for surgery.

 

Smith recalls one man who had been running for more than 24 hours because he believed the devil was chasing him with an ax. By the time police brought him to the hospital, he was dehydrated and covered in blood from running through thorny underbrush.

 

“We’re seeing extreme agitation, hallucinations that are very vivid, paranoia and some really violent behavior, so it’s a real crisis for us,” Smith said.

 

“We sedate the living daylights out of them.

 

“And we’re talking doses on the order of 10 or 20 times what you would give for a painful procedure,” Smith said.

 

To control the spread of the problem, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued a temporary ban in October on three of the most common drugs — mephedrone, methylone and MDPV. That ban became permanent under the bill signed by Obama on July 10.

The spread of Spice: Colleges, NCAA deal with the problem of synthetic marijuana


dyer-trial.jpg

Former Auburn running back Mike Dyer testifies as a prosecution witness April 11, 2012, during the trial of former teammate Antonio Goodwin.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Like countless other col­lege basketball players, Lamar Jack couldn’t wait for the 2012 season to begin.

The redshirt freshman forward was working out with his Anderson (S.C.) University teammates last September, going through preseason conditioning drills, when something went terribly wrong.

After complaining of cramps and blurred vision, Jack collapsed. He was rushed to the emergency room, where his body tem­perature was extremely el­evated.

Four days later, he died at the age of 19.

After an autopsy, Ander­son County coroner Greg Shore told the Anderson In­dependent Mail that Jack’s death was the result of “acute drug toxicity (that) led to multiple organ failure.”

Toxicology tests revealed that Jack had ingested the chemical JWH-018, which is used to make synthetic marijuana.

“This drug certainly triggered this young athlete’s death,” Shore said, “and that is tragic.”

Synthetic marijuana, which was sold legally over the counter in Alabama until last year under such names as K2 and Spice, has become the latest front in the war on drugs waged by athletics organizations such as the NCAA and federal agencies such as the DEA.

“Poison center experts say these substances are among the worst they have ever seen,” said Rick Dart, the president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. “People high on these drugs can get very agitated and violent, exhibit psychosis and severe behavior changes and have harmed themselves and others.”

‘Like a heroin high’

The National Center for Drug-Free Sport, which administers drug-testing programs for the NCAA and for more than 200 colleges and universities, first spotted synthetic marijuana on its radar about two years ago.

One of the center’s vice presidents, Andrea Wickerham, said it “crept into athletics a little more than a year ago” through reports from some of the center’s university clients.

“We were hearing from them what they were hearing from their student-athletes” about the use of synthetic marijuana on campus, Wickerham said. “The schools were asking us, ‘What do you know? What are you seeing?’ ”

Based on anecdotal evidence from the center’s clients, the effects of synthetic marijuana have ranged from increased heart rate and blood pressure, Wickerham said, to “horrible examples of seizures and convulsions.”

She added that part of synthetic marijuana’s danger is “it’s an illicit street drug. You don’t know what you’re buying. What’s really in it?”

Synthetic marijuana products consist of dried leaves from traditional herbal products that have been treated with chemicals, supposedly to mimic the effects of marijuana, but they can be much stronger.

“The high is not in the least like a marijuana high,” Wickerham said. “It’s like a heroin high or an Ecstasy high, in a bad way.”

Until the chemicals used to make these products were outlawed in more than 30 states, including Alabama, and banned by the DEA, they were available over the counter at retail outlets such as gas stations, convenience stores and tobacco shops and often marketed as herbal incense.

Synthetic marijuana made headlines in the SEC twice during the past academic year. Last October, LSU suspended three football players: defensive backs Tharold Simon and Tyrann Mathieu, who went on to be a Heisman Trophy finalist, and running back Spencer Ware.

Those players missed one game against Auburn after they tested positive for synthetic marijuana in a school-administered drug test, ESPN.com reported at the time. Wickerham said she talked to LSU officials who confirmed that report.

In April, former Auburn tailback Mike Dyer testified at the trial of former teammate Antonio Goodwin, who later was found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Dyer testified that, on the night of the robbery, he met Goodwin and co-defendants Shaun Kitchens and Dakota Mosley at a party at teammate DeAngelo Benton’s house and that the players were smoking Spice.

Dyer also testified that, during his two years at Auburn, he “consistently” smoked Spice and found it “way stronger” than traditional marijuana.

“Auburn’s not alone,” Wickerham said. “We’re seeing high numbers in terms of positive test results.”

Wickerham wouldn’t provide those numbers, but they came from a blind study of about 2,000 samples from student-athletes in all NCAA sports. That study is part of the research being done by the UCLA Olympic lab as the NCAA moves toward including synthetic marijuana as one of the street drugs for which it tests at NCAA championships.

The NCAA currently conducts drug testing at its championship events in all three divisions at least once every five years, and testing occurs at certain championships every year. The NCAA also tests about 11,000 Division I and II student-athletes in all sports at random throughout the year, but only the screening at championships tests for street drugs.

The NCAA added “synthetic cannabinoids (eg. Spice, K2, JWH-018, JWH-073)” to its list of banned street drugs — a list that includes but isn’t limited to marijuana and heroin — in 2011.

“I’m hopeful the NCAA will begin testing for it (at championships) in the fall of 2013,” Wickerham said. “The missing piece now is what does the lab recommend as the threshold level (for a positive test).”

synth-mj.jpgSome of the products that fall under the broad category of synthetic marijuana that were sold legally over the counter until 2011.

Mary Wilfert, the NCAA’s associate director of health and safety, said it takes time to develop a drug-testing protocol in this case because synthetic marijuana “is not a standardized substance. There are many compounds that go into these products. We’re not testing for products. We’re testing for chemical substances.”

More than 90 percent of Division I schools conduct their own drug-testing programs. SEC schools already have begun testing their student-athletes for synthetic marijuana. Ten of the league’s 14 schools responded to multiple requests from The Birmingham News for basic information on the subject. Spokesmen for Kentucky and Vanderbilt responded but said their schools don’t reveal such medical information.

All eight schools that provided information — Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Texas A&M — said they test for synthetic marijuana and their penalties for a positive test are the same as for traditional marijuana. Those penalties vary from school to school.

Of the schools that responded, Alabama was the first to test for synthetic marijuana, beginning in the fall of 2010. Auburn began testing for it Aug. 1, 2011.

Texas A&M and Mississippi State were the only schools that responded to a question about the number or percentage of student-athletes who had tested positive for synthetic marijuana. They said they’ve each had one positive test.

Increasing usage

Statistics from the American Association of Poison Control Centers suggest usage continues to grow in the general population. The AAPCC reported that the number of calls about synthetic marijuana use to poison centers in the United States grew from 2,906 in 2010 to 6,959 in 2011. Those centers had logged 3,372 such calls through June 30 of this year.

Using its emergency scheduling authority, the DEA prohibited the possession and sale of five specific chemical agents contained in synthetic marijuana in March 2011.

“This emergency action was necessary to prevent an imminent threat to public health and safety,” the DEA said.

In October 2011, the state of Alabama followed suit when Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, signed an emergency order making the possession or sale of chemical compounds typically found in synthetic marijuana substances unlawful.

Between October 2010 and October 2011, the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Alabama reported receiving 101 calls from people exposed to K2 or Spice. Three victims were 6 to 12, 35 were teenagers and 32 were in their 20s.

“These substances have been wrongly presented as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana,” Williamson said. “We want the public to be aware of the toxic effects and other dangers associated with synthetic marijuana use.”

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which specifically identified a number of synthetic cannabinoids and made their use, possession or distribution illegal.

Wickerham of the National Center for Drug-Free Sport said her organization and others like the NCAA have been playing catch-up on this problem. One reason student-athletes say they’ve used synthetic marijuana, in addition to it being legal until recently, was their belief that their schools didn’t test for it or that those tests couldn’t detect it.

The NCAA has educated its schools about the dangers of synthetic marijuana through newsletters and forums, but it still is gathering information on the subject.

Every four years, the NCAA conducts a drug-use survey of student-athletes in which they’re allowed to respond anonymously. About 20,000 completed surveys are returned. The most recent survey, in 2008-09, did not ask about the use of synthetic marijuana.

The next one, in 2012-13, will.

“There just seems to be an explosion in the last few years of people developing synthetic mood-altering drugs,” Wilfert said. “It’s not something we’d seen before.”

 

Many drugs remain legal after ‘bath salts’ ban


WASHINGTON — People are inventing so many new ways to get high that lawmakers can’t seem to keep up.

Police remove boxes of evidence from Tebb’s Headshop on North Salina Street in Syracuse, N.Y., part of a statewide effort to target shops suspected of selling illegal synthetic drugs such as bath salts, Wednesday.

Police remove boxes of evidence from Tebb’s Headshop on North Salina Street in Syracuse, N.Y., part of a statewide effort to target shops suspected of selling illegal synthetic drugs such as bath salts, Wednesday. / Lauren Long/AP

Over the past two years, the U.S. has seen a surge in the use of synthetic drugs made of legal chemicals that mimic the dangerous effects of cocaine, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants.

The drugs are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items like bath salts, incense and plant food. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country. Law enforcement officials refer to the drugs collectively as “bath salts,” though they have nothing in common with the fragrant toiletries used to moisturize skin.

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law earlier this month that bans the sale, production and possession of more than two dozen of the most common bath salt drugs. But health professionals say lawmakers cannot keep pace with bath salt producers, who constantly adjust their chemical formulations to come up with new synthetic drugs that aren’t covered by new laws. Experts who have studied the problem estimate there are more than 100 different bath salt chemicals in circulation.

“The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

There are no back alleys or crack houses in America’s latest drug epidemic. The problem involves potent substances that amateur chemists make, package and sell in stores under brands like “Ivory Wave,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Bliss” for as little as $15. Emergencies related to the drugs have surged: The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from just 304 the year before — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

The problem for lawmakers is that it’s difficult to crack down on the drugs. U.S. laws prohibit the sale or possession of all substances that mimic illegal drugs, but only if federal prosecutors can show that they are intended for human use. People who make bath salts and similar drugs work around this by printing “not for human consumption” on virtually every packet.

Synthetic drugs: creativity that kills


Wanna buy some drugs? How about some drugz?

Years ago, law enforcement had to worry about a handful of illegal intoxicants, primarily marijuana, cocaine, heroin and a few natural and chemical hallucinogens. There were also pills, diverted from the pharmacy or cooked in a kitchen.

But, for the most part, the composition of the various intoxicants was settled and well known by law enforcement and by regulators if not by users.

Today, the drug universe is as broad as the human imagination.

Chemicals identified by unpronounceable names are sprayed on leaves and twigs or packaged in foil envelopes and sold in convenience stores and head shops across America. Some are peddled as incense, others as bath salts to circumvent existing prohibitions.

No amount of packaging, however, can conceal that the stuff is designed to get people high.

For years, lawmakers have tried to target these so-called “synthetic” drugs. But as soon as they identify one chemical compound and ban it, an illicit drugmaker rearranges a few atoms, and the result is legal again.

This new game of regulatory cat and mouse is different not just because law enforcement can’t keep up. The drugs themselves, whether by design or because of sloppy manufacture, have wildly unpredictable effects on the human body.

Some have caused heart attacks. Others, psychosis. Still others have led to Parkinsonian-like tremors and brain damage. Users have stayed awake for days, desperate for some way to come down. It’s getting worse.

In 2010, there were 3,200 calls to poison centers about synthetic marijuana and bath salts, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In 2011, there were more than 13,000.

This month, the president signed a bill that added another few dozen compounds to the list of banned chemicals. It was one more step in a broader effort that, like the drug war itself, simply isn’t working because it can’t keep up.

In Portsmouth earlier this year, three men pleaded guilty to importing a controlled substance – methylone – that was legal until last October. The drugs came from China and were procured via email. Now it’s in the same category as heroin.

These synthetic drugs are that dangerous. They represent that serious a threat to the lives of Americans. And by now, drugmakers have already created a replacement.

Federal authorities crack down on synthetic drugs


In the first national crackdown on the burgeoning synthetic drug industry, federal drug agents have arrested 90 people and seized more than 5 million packets of the drugs, which may affect ongoing investigations in Wisconsin, authorities said Thursday.

The operation, launched by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, targeted synthetic drugs often marked as bath salts, incense, plant food or Spice, also known as synthetic marijuana.

None of the arrests occurred in Milwaukee, but cases under investigation may be connected to those takedowns, according to DEA assistant special agent in charge James Bohn of the Milwaukee office.

“We have ongoing local investigations into synthetic drugs that may be impacted by these other operations that occurred yesterday (Wednesday),” Bohn said.

According to the DEA office in Chicago, several seizures were made in other jurisdictions based on infor mation obtained from the investigations in Wisconsin.

Synthetic cannabis has been a bigger problem in Milwaukee than the so-called bath salts, according to Milwaukee police Capt. Anthony Smith, head of the narcotics division of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Nationwide, people are inventing so many new ways to get high that lawmakers can’t seem to keep up.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has seen a surge in the use of synthetic drugs made of legal chemicals that mimic the dangerous effects of cocaine, amphetamines and other illegal stimulants.

The drugs are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items such as bath salts, incense and plant food. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country. Law enforcement officials refer to the drugs collectively as “bath salts,” though they have nothing in common with the fragrant toiletries used to moisturize skin.

States have been passing laws to outlaw synthetic marijuana and the so-called bath salts, and in 2011 Wisconsin passed such laws.

Smith said, however, that it is difficult to keep up with changes in the drugs.

“You change one minor thing and you change the chemical content and skirt the law,” Smith said.

Smith said that in Milwaukee law enforcement agencies see more traditional drugs such as cocaine, marijuana and heroin. But the synthetic drugs are certainly here, he said.

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law earlier this month that bans the sale, production and possession of more than two dozen of the most common bath salt drugs. But health professionals say lawmakers cannot keep pace with bath salt producers, who constantly adjust their chemical formulations to come up with new synthetic drugs that aren’t covered by new laws. Experts who have studied the problem estimate there are more than 100 different bath salt chemicals in circulation.

“The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

There are no back alleys or crack houses in America’s latest drug epidemic. The problem involves potent substances that amateur chemists make, package and sell in stores under brands such as “Ivory Wave,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Bliss” for as little as $15.

Emergencies related to the drugs have surged: The American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 – up from just 304 the year before – and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.

The problem for lawmakers is that it’s difficult to crack down on the drugs. U.S. laws prohibit the sale or possession of all substances that mimic illegal drugs, but only if federal prosecutors can show that they are intended for human use. People who make bath salts and similar drugs work around this by printing “not for human consumption” on the packet.

Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the intended use for bath salts is clear.

“Everyone knows these are drugs to get high, including the sellers,” she said.

Many states have banned some of the most common bath salts, which are typically sold by small businesses such as convenience stores, tobacco shops and adult book stores. For instance, West Virginia legislators banned the bath salt drug MDPV last year, making it a misdemeanor to sell, buy or possess the synthetic drug.

Conviction means up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, says there are so many different drugs out there that it’s almost impossible to know what people have ingested, or how long the effects will last.

“Cocaine is cocaine and meth is meth. We know what these things do,” he said. “But with these new drugs, every time the chemist alters the chemical structure, all bets are off.”

The financial lure for small-time drug makers is enticing. The drugs can be cheaply imported from China or India, and then easily packaged under local brands.

The widespread availability of the drugs in stores is equally alluring for drug users: They can get a cheap high similar to that of illegal drugs by walking to a corner store.

The most dangerous synthetic drugs are stimulants that affect levels of both dopamine and serotonin, brain chemicals that affect mood and perception. Users, who typically smoke or snort the drugs, may experience a surge in energy, fever and delusions of invincibility.

Hospital emergency rooms, doctors and law enforcement agencies across the country have struggled to control bath salt drug users who often are feverish and paranoid that they are being attacked. Doctors say users often turn up naked because bath salts raise their body temperature so much that they strip off their clothing.

To control the spread of the problem, the DEA issued a temporary ban in October on three of the most common drugs – mephedrone, methylone and MDPV.

That ban became permanent under the bill signed by Obama on July 10. Under the law, anyone convicted of selling, making or possessing 28 synthetic drugs, including bath salts, will face penalties similar to those for dealing traditional drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Those on the front lines say the legislation is a good start. But they don’t expect new laws to dramatically curb use of bath salts in the near term.

“The problem is these drugs are changing, and I’m sure they’re going to find some that are a little bit different chemically so they don’t fall under the law,” said Sullivan Smith, a Tennessee doctor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.