The bad news about bath salts

For several months, Will Moffitt has been warning us about “bath salts.”

Bath salts is the innocuous name given to a group of designer drugs that resemble Epsom salts. The recipes for these drugs vary, but usually contain a synthetic benzoylethanamine or cathinone, which have effects similar to ecstasy and cocaine.

Moffitt is a former La Cañada Unified School District board member, past president of the LCF Educational Foundation and current chairman of the La Cañada Community Prevention Council.

From October 22 to 26, Moffitt and the Community Prevention Council will conduct Red Ribbon Week, an annual alcohol, tobacco, drug and violence prevention awareness campaign. The timing is perfect.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen the news reports concerning 52-year-old La Cañada businessman Brian C. Mulligan. A few months ago, Mulligan filed a $50-million claim against the city of Los Angeles alleging that in May, he was imprisoned in a motel room by the Los Angeles Police Department and then brutally beaten. The photo of Mulligan’s battered face went viral.

The police report mentioned that Mulligan had been using White Lightning, a type of bath salts. Mulligan’s lawyers vehemently denied the allegation. Last week, an audio tape emerged in which Mulligan (if it was Mulligan) called the Glendale police to say that a helicopter was following him, and admitted using bath salts at least 20 times.

The tape story was reported everywhere. L.A. Times. CBS. Huffington Post. The Valley Sun.

The legal status of designer drugs constantly varies. As new synthetics are designed, state legislatures try to pass laws that criminalize their use. Extreme cases and media publicity drive the process. Until a new law is passed, the new designer drug is probably legal, or at least there’s a defense on that basis. When a state cracks down on one drug, the vendors vary the formula slightly and invent another drug.

Cat and mouse.

Last May, the use of bath salts was not illegal in California. By July, the president signed a federal law banning some forms of bath salts. Three weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that criminalizes the use of synthetic drugs such as bath salts. The new crime will be a low-grade misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. The law takes effect on Jan. 1.

The L.A. Times recently reported that the danger of bath salts is not well known (“Bath salts dangers underscored,” Oct. 17). For months, the media has reported cases of unexpected side effects in otherwise normal people that result in grisly assaults, such as chewing off the face of a homeless man, strangling an 80-year-old neighbor and slashing one’s own throat.

Given the thousands of people who have used bath salts, it is obvious that not everyone has a bizarre psychotic reaction. That’s why the ad horrendum argument (“you’ll go nuts”) is ineffective. Not everyone who uses designer drugs goes crazy. It’s like Russian roulette. Sometimes, there’s a bullet in the chamber. Sometimes not. In the user’s mind, that risk is balanced against the perceived legal advantage of getting high on a drug that is not yet illegal.

Bottom line: If you get sick, see a doctor. If you get arrested, see a lawyer. And if you are a concerned parent, see Will Moffitt.

Despite the recent news coverage, the sky is not falling. La Cañada is a pretty safe community. So, why is Will Moffitt spreading the word on designer drugs?

Study Shows Exactly Why ‘Bath Salts’ Are So Dangerous

Designer street drugs called bath salts are highly addictive and cause hyperactivity, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure, according to an illuminating study on two substances published earlier this week.

Bath salts represent an increasingly problematic segment of the nation’s battle with substance use and dependence. The number of calls to the American Association of Poison Control Centers from people sickened by bath salts skyrocketed from 303 in 2010 to 6,072 last year. The new study, performed on animals, provides a scientific look at how the chemicals impact the brain. The research is important for public health and substance-abuse professionals trying to prevent more people from experimenting with the drugs and helping those who become addicted.

“The fundamental problem with the whole bath salts phenomenon is we don’t know anything about the pharmacological effects and possible toxic effects of these substances,” Dr. Michael Baumann, the lead author of the study and a staff scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told TakePart. “Where do they interact in the brain and in the periphery? From a public health perspective, we really need to know what those risks might be.”

Bath salts represent a class of designer drugs that began showing up on U.S. streets about three years ago. Sold as a synthetic powder, the drugs are available online and in drug paraphernalia stores. Besides the term bath salts, the drugs are known by names such as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Red Dove,” “Blue Silk,” “Zoom,” “Bloom,” “Cloud Nine,” “Ocean Snow,” “Lunar Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” “White Lightning,” “Scarface,” and “Hurricane Charlie,” according to NIDA. The drugs are inhaled, swallowed, injected, or snorted.

Chemically, bath salts resemble naturally occurring substances called cathinones, which have a chemical structure similar to amphetamines, although the effects of the synthetic substances on the brain is far different from what nature intended with cathinones.

In July, President Obama signed a law banning known versions of the drugs, including those that contain several popular active ingredients known as methylone, mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV. But street chemists continue to tweak the concoctions to produce new versions that escape Drug Enforcement Agency classification.

“We have a whole new wave of second-generation or replacement cathinones,” Baumann says. “MDPV, mephedrone and methylone are being replaced. [Manufacturers] change the structure of the molecules ever so slightly. So this is a formidable problem.”

The new study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, explains why users should fear the effects of bath salts. Like the drug MDMA—or Ecstasy—the active compounds in bath salts examined in the study attach to chemical transporters on the surface of some neurons. This leads to increases in the brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and prolongs the effects of dopamine and norepinephrine in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.

Designer Drugs Huge Problems

Tightening bonds with community agencies and groups, plus working with the county to keep the sheriff’s office in business, are top priorities for sheriff candidate Scott Stephenson.

Stephenson, who serves as a Midland County Sheriff’s Office road patrol sergeant after leaving his position as jail manager due to a federal law regulating federal money and campaigns, said working together is the way to solve many problems the county is facing, from drugs to budget woes.

He said the designer drugs called bath salts and synthetic marijuana, along with daytime break-ins, are the county’s biggest crime issues. He said the use of bath salts was so pervasive last year that the jail averaged one or two people a week detoxing from the substance. Use of the drug makes people paranoid, aggressive and violent, and he is hopeful the state Legislature’s recent ban of bath salts will help with the problem.

That still leaves opiates, like heroin. “We have more people in jail for drugs than alcohol,” Stephenson said, adding drugs factor into crime, with people stealing items to sell for money to buy drugs.

With resources at the sheriff’s office and the Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team stretched thin, he believes the best way to confront the issue is education.

“It’s a combination of education and a strong presence of law enforcement,” he said, adding he’d like to expand the D.A.R.E. program into junior high and high school, and build tighter relationships with groups like the Midland Area Partnership for Drug Free Youth and The Legacy Center for Community Success.

He also advocates for working with other county and township officials.

“I’ve always been a big believer in working with the county team,” he said, adding the sheriff, county administrator/controller and county commissioners are responsible for making sure taxpayer money goes where it needs to be.

He said there are other revenue sources, citing money brought in by contracts to house inmates at the Midland County Jail, to help offset cuts to the sheriff’s office. He said the jail made $1.4 million last year, and next year’s goal is $2 million.

A share of those dollars spent to restore road patrol staffing levels — which 18 years ago were at six deputies per shift and now are at three deputies per shift — would result in improved law enforcement.

“We just don’t have the time to be proactive like we used to,” he said, adding there’s only time to answer calls. Some incidents, such as fatal accidents, require two deputies. That leaves a single officer to respond to calls, including domestics, which also should have two deputies respond, he said. That leaves the remaining deputy to rely on backup from the Michigan State Police, or Midland Police. “You can’t rely on other offices to do that for you.”

Another problem at the sheriff’s office is the dwindling detective bureau. Two years ago, the bureau dropped to a single detective. In 1983 and before, there were three detectives and a detective lieutenant, Stephenson said.

“There are crimes deputies are investigating, but we’re not specifically trained to do the things they are,” he said of detectives.

Jail staffing also is not at recommended levels. The National Institute of Corrections, the jail architect and Department of Corrections made recommendations of 38, 36 and 32 full-time corrections deputies, respectively. At last count, there were 23 full-time deputies, Stephenson said, with part-time corrections officers used to offset overtime.

In addition to safety issues, Stephenson said the jail is the most likely operation for county government to be sued over. Lower staffing levels increase the odds of injuries or inmate fights.

“That’s a potential problem,” he said. “We want to see more people on the road patrol and in the jail.”

Stephenson said having a millage would just end up putting the road patrol on the chopping block every few years. “I’m not really against it but I’m not 100 percent for it,” he said.

He said Sheriff Jerry Nielsen has talked with several townships about contracting a patrol car and writing tickets under ordinances, but that is up to the people who live in the townships. “I don’t know that the townships are in a very good position to do that,” Stephenson said, adding one option might be for townships along M-20 to partner on writing tickets under ordinances to pay for a deputy to provide extra patrol on the highway.

The job of sheriff takes experience working with people, and Stephenson said he meets that qualification.

His experience includes working with human resources, the board of commissioners, administrator/controller, the courts, public, outside agencies and county employees outside the sheriff’s office. He also has had what he calls “extensive training” in proactive leadership, civil liability, command and staff, leadership and executive management, attended two different jail administrator schools, and national recognition as a certified jail manager.

“Through my years of working and training, I’ve developed a skill set that I believe makes me unique,” he said. He also has worked with federal officials and officials from other counties to set up contracts to house inmates. “You have to have the people skills.”

Stephenson said he would expand the sheriff’s office website to include weekly statistics so taxpayers can see where their money goes and submit tips, plus use new technology, including facial recognition software and auto license plate readers.

Concerning Sanford Lake Park, he said the current plan of placing two deputies and four to six reserve deputies at the park on Saturdays and Sundays has been effective.

“The presence alone has started to curtail some of the disorderly behavior out there.”


Synthetic marijuana finds a following among the young, old alike

Synthetic, designer drugs were just starting to make waves in Jefferson Parish last fall when Lt. John Ladd, a detective with the Sheriff’s Office narcotics division, visited the hospital rooms of two Metairie teenagers hospitalized after smoking man-made marijuana. One 14-year-old girl went into immediate cardiac arrest after taking a toke and had to be resuscitated at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie. The other, a 16-year-old girl, smoked before what turned out to be a frightening trip to the Esplanade mall in Kenner.


21 people arrested in St. Tammany Parish for selling synthetic marijauna

EnlargeScott Threlkeld, The Times-PicayuneSCOTT THRELKELD / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain announces the arrest of 21 people Wednesday, October 26, 2011, for selling synthetic marijuana and bath salts in convenience stores throughout St. Tammany Parish. Officials recovered about 8,500 packets of synthetic marijuana, $115,000 in cash, weapons and eight vehicles.21 people arrested in St. Tammany Parish for selling synthetic marijauna and bath salts gallery (16 photos)

  • 21 people arrested in St. Tammany Parish for selling synthetic marijauna
  • 21 people arrested in St. Tammany Parish for selling synthetic marijauna
  • 21 people arrested in St. Tammany Parish for selling synthetic marijauna
  • 21 people arrested in St. Tammany Parish for selling synthetic marijauna
  • 21 people arrested in St. Tammany Parish for selling synthetic marijauna

“They were walking into the mall, and she sees the bushes and trees talking to her and jumping around. She passed out, and they called EMS,” Ladd said.


Both girls told Ladd they had been smoking “POW!,” an illegal “botanical potpourri” sold by The Rob Shop, a smoke shop with two locations in Metairie.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators on July 19 announced the arrests of the business’s owners, Robert Bentel Jr. and Robert McPhail, along with nine other suspects in a wide-ranging crackdown on synthetic marijuana manufacturing and distribution in the parish. Detectives seized more than $1 million in cash, drugs and other assets.

Wide appeal

Detectives uncovered an alleged trafficking business that spread to several states. But their investigation also revealed that synthetic marijuana appealed to more than just mischievous high schoolers. Agents watched adults — including soccer moms and seniors — make their way into stores that were under surveillance to buy the drug.

Case detective Adrian Thompson said while crack and heroin tend to attract a certain subset of users, synthetic marijuana consumers run the gamut.

“With this drug, it was everyone from 13 to 70,” he said. “The well-dressed, well-to-do types and the not-as-well-dressed. Every rung of the socioeconomic ladder was touched. It was completely across the board.”

Emergency room doctors at Interim LSU Public Hospital in New Orleans noticed the same diversity in the patients treated there for overdoses of the synthetic substance, according Dr. Victor Tuckler, the ER’s toxicologist. He and detective say users are drawn by the drug’s over-the-counter availability.

The Sheriff’s Office has found synthetic marijuana sold out in the open at service stations and convenience stores as well as on the Internet. No backstreet deals or clandestine hook-ups with a possibly shady dealer.

“A lot of the public believes that it’s somewhat safe because it’s being sold at retail outlets,” said Capt. Keith Simone, another Sheriff’s Office narcotics agent.

Dangerous high

That lure, authorities say, is a lie. Many users ingest synthetic marijuana expecting the same effects as naturally grown grass but find themselves suffering from high blood pressure, nausea, high fevers, seizures and hallucinations, Tuckler said.

“A lot of their behavior and their presentation is very similar to people high on cocaine,” he said

But what has proven more harmful is the psychosis that seems to accompany the drug’s use, Tuckler said. Patients have developed delusions, violent paranoia or extreme suicidal thoughts, symptoms that persist for days, sometimes weeks.

Authorities have no way of knowing the drugs’ long-term effects because the chemical makeups are always changing. Accused local manufacturers buy the active ingredients for synthetic marijuana in powder form from unregulated chemists overseas, mostly in China, Thompson said.

They dissolve the powder into liquid acetone, the chemical used in nail polish remover, then spray it onto harmless, dried plant leaves. Authorities suspect they might include additives like hallucinogens and or nicotine.

Those back room chemists and manufacturers stay one step ahead of law enforcement by easily changing the molecular makeup of the raw chemical whenever new laws are passed banning a particular formula.

And the unknown is what makes these drugs even more dangerous, said Dr. Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center.

“A number of these substances have never been tested on anything,” Ryan said. “You could use of these substances and end up with Parkinson’s syndrome in a week that’s never going to go away. No one knows.”

Thompson said suspicious parents should keep an eye out for the small flashy packages of “potpourri” that bear names like “POW!”, “Nola Diamond”, “Mojo”, “K-2” and “Spice.” Adults of all ages using the drug should beware, Tuckler said. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous not just in the physical, but in the mental sense.

“You have a kid who’s in college who just wants to have a good time,” Tuckler said. “He experiments and the next day, he’s suicidal and paranoid. That paranoia could stay the rest of his life. That’s how devastating it could be.”

Getting a Handle on Synthetic Drugs Is a Lot Tougher Than Getting Them


synthetic marijuanaThe synthetic marijuana product Spice

Synthetic, or designer, drugs are chemical compounds that imitate the effects of marijuana, stimulants, and other recreational drugs. Unlike illegal substances, synthetics are easily accessible to users who want to get high without risking legal repercussions. Although the Federal Analog Act of 1986 prevents the sale of chemicals with structures that are “substantially similar” to those of illegal drugs, it only applies to drugs intended for human consumption. Manufacturers easily leap this hurdleby labeling their synthetic drugs as non-ingestible products such as incense, potpourri, or bath salts. Taking a different tack, the government recently passed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, which makes some of the popular designer drugs illegal. But did this really make synthetics lessavailable?

The act’s long list of now-illegal chemical formulas may not be long enough: chemists can tweak the molecular structure of a compound to make it different enough to circumvent the ban, but similar enough to cause the same effects. Because manufacturers keep creating new formulas each time the old ones become illegal, synthetic drugs are incredibly difficult to regulate. And this is dangerous because on top of getting users high, synthetics can have unintended effects.

One type of synthetic stimulant called bath salts entered the common vernacular after being linked to hallucinations, suicides, and violent attacks. And as 80beats reported in 2011, synthetic marijuana may have given several teens heart attacks. And months after that post was published, its comment thread continues to grow as people share their experiences with synthetic products. Anecdotes describe pounding hearts, intense panic attacks, loss of bodily control, and feeling certain that death was nigh. “I thought I was going to die, my heart was racing and it was pounding so hard it was affecting my breathing like when you pound on your chest when you talk. I have had panic attacks before and this was the mother of all panic attacks,” wrote one commenter. According to another, “I felt weak, I felt an impending sense of doom, I thought I could be having a heart attack.” Others vomited heavily or lost control of their bladders. Even hours after taking the drugs, sensations of illness and anxiety remained.Easily evaded regulations mean synthetic drugs that cause these reactions will remain on store shelves, despite the government’s best efforts to pull them out of reach.

Davie councilman questions legality of synthetic drug ban

DAVIE — The town may soon join the growing list of South Florida cities outlawing the sale of synthetic drugs — but one councilman fears Davie’s ban may be unconstitutional.

Like Sweetwater and Lauderhill, Davie wants to crack down not only on stores selling synthetic marijuana and psychoactive bath salts, but also the people buying the designer drugs.

This week, Councilman Bryan Caletka said Davie may be on the verge of approving an unconstitutional ban that won’t hold up in court.

The council approved the ban Wednesday in a 4-1 vote, with Caletka dissenting. The ban won’t take effect until a final vote Aug. 1.

Davie’s ordinance says anyone caught selling or in possession of “bath salts” or synthetic marijuana could be fined up to $5,000 and face up to 60 days in jail. The ordinance also charges violators a $200 fine to help cover the town’s administrative costs.

Caletka has several objections to the ban.

Say someone buys synthetic drugs from a store in a city where they have not been banned, then gets stopped by an officer in Davie. That person may end up spending the night in jail, Caletka says.

The town would then bear the costs of a public defender and may end up losing in court.

Davie cops wouldn’t be able to test the products on the street, because there are no field tests for synthetic drugs. Confiscated products would require expensive testing by an outside lab — another potential burden on Davie taxpayers.

“It’s not constitutional,” Caletka said. “They are jumping on a bandwagon just to say that they did it. They are making a criminal law and they don’t have the authority to do that. Cities cannot put criminal laws on the books, only the state and federal government can.”

On Thursday, Town Attorney John Rayson said Caletka may have a point. Rayson is still researching the issue, but said the town may have to resort to a ban on sales alone.

Danny Stallone, the legal adviser for the Davie Police Department, said Davie’s ordinance is similar to the ban approved by Miami-Dade County on July 3. But Miami-Dade’s ban pertains only to the sale and display of synthetic drugs — not possession.

Coral Springs commissioners embraced a ban on synthetic drugs Tuesday, but like many cities stopped short of outlawing possession, said City Attorney J.J. Hearn.

In Coral Springs, the civil penalties for first-time offenders caught selling or displaying herbal incense or bath salts start at $250 and increase with repeat violations.

Lauderhill outlawed possession of synthetic drugs when it approved a ban June 25.

“I can’t answer to the constitutionality of it,” Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan said. “I requested a law to be drafted, and I rely on the attorneys as to the legality of it. I assumed what they gave us was constitutional.”

Caletka asked the town attorney what would happen if he brought synthetic weed to a town meeting for the purpose of showing the council.

Rayson told Caletka the synthetic pot would be confiscated and he could be fined for violating a town ordinance.

Caletka requested delaying Wednesday’s vote until Rayson could research whether Davie’s ordinance was legal.

But Councilman Marlon Luis urged moving ahead.

“These are dangerous things,” Luis said. “They’re being sold in our town. I don’t really care about the constitutionality. I’m more worried about the kids.”

Luis said they needed to do something to protect people from using a chemical concoction that might send them to the hospital.

People smoking synthetic marijuana can experience rapid heart rate, anxiety, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, renal failure and, in extreme cases, death.

People snorting bath salts can experience extreme paranoia, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, high body temperature, vivid hallucinations, hostility and aggression.

Federal and state officials have banned specific compounds used to make synthetic drugs, but chemists tweak the compounds to stay one step ahead of the law.