Georgia targets bath salts used as drug

Georgia targets bath salts used as drug

February 7th, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Examples of fake "bath salts" are displayed by Senate Drug Policy Committee chairman Sid Albritton, R-Picayune, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. The salts contain toxic chemicals that some people snort, smoke or huff to get a hallucinogenic high, and lawmakers are talking about banning them. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Georgia lawmakers are moving quickly to ban a legal synthetic drug that is sold as bath salts and which police say is potentially deadly.

Ivory Wave, Cloud Nine and Red Dove are just a few of the names for the bath salts, which can cause a user to hallucinate for days after snorting, huffing or injecting them. They are available in some stores and on the Internet and cost about $20 per packet.

"Because it is legal, we have a lot of kids who think it's safe," said state Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette. He said he plans to introduce legislation today to ban the ingredients used in the bath salts.

The powdery packets are a hot topic in statehouses and media outlets across the country, and there have been several cases of emergency room trips and a few deaths related to the use of the substance.

Lawmakers in Georgia and several neighboring states -- but not Tennessee -- have filed or plan to introduce bills to ban the suspect bath salts.

While local police say they haven't seen the drug sold in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia, the salts are sold in head shops and some convenience stores in Atlanta.

"As of right now, we can say that it's not showing up on our doorsteps, but that's not to say it's not here," said Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Lt. Van Hinton.

When drug trends reach Atlanta, it's usually just a matter of time before they extend into the Chattanooga region, police say.

The issue came to light in early January, when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an emergency rule to outlaw the product. Louisiana's poison control center received more than 125 calls in the last three months of 2010 involving the chemicals, The Associated Press reported.

"We need to address it very quickly," said Officer Michael Gardner, with the Marietta Police Department near Atlanta. "I've seen people extremely geeked out on meth ... but I've never seen the effects last this long."

The hallucination is much stronger than LSD or Ecstasy, said Gardner, who first witnessed a patient hospitalized from the drug in November. The patient hallucinated for three days and was extremely paranoid, even asking the security guards watching him if they had stolen his beer, Gardner said.

When the patient finally woke up, he was physically exhausted and couldn't remember anything, Gardner said.

The bath salts are made with at least seven to nine chemicals that don't show up in a typical drug test, said Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Control Center. A similar synthetic drug is advertised as plant fertilizer in other countries, he said.

Because the chemicals are made with different ingredients and the potency varies, users quickly can overdose with effects similar to methamphetamine, Gardner said.

Neal said lawmakers see no option but to make the ingredients a Schedule I controlled substance, regulating the salts the same as other serious drugs including heroin and cocaine, Neal said.

While local police say they haven't seen the bath salts sold in any local stores, they support legislation that could nip the problem in the bud.

"It's something police are aware of but haven't seen yet," said Dalton Police Lt. Chris Crossen.

"It should be banned," Hinton said. "If there's no medical use for a drug substance, then there's no reason to have it."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.


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