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We’ve all heard of bath salts as wonderful therapeutic aids, but according to Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, new lines of bath salts are starting to be used as narcotics and the effects nationwide are disturbing.
“These aren’t your grandmother’s bath salts,” Koretz said.
In Mississippi, one user slit his face and stomach repeatedly with a knife while under the influence of bath salts.
Koretz has called for a city ban and other appropriate restrictions related to the sale of the bath salts, which are being snorted, injected or smoked. Koretz introduced a motion before the city council on Feb. 1 that instructs the city attorney to draft an ordinance. Koretz’s motion also designated the city’s chief legislative analyst to report to the city council on pertinent legislation in other jurisdictions.
The bath salts, which are legal to purchase, even by minors, come with such harmless-sounding names as Ivory Snow, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky, and have not yet been regulated by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
“What’s very clear is that there’s a growing and potentially severe problem, yet to be adequately addressed, regarding the easy, legal availability of the innocent sounding bath salts,” Koretz said. “Right now, only a limited number of jurisdictions in our country, including a small number of states, have instituted any actual laws, and so regulatory and legislative steps need to be taken.”
Consisting of mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), the effects can be as powerful as those of methamphetamine and can cause hallucinations, paranoia, a rapid heart rate, and suicidal thoughts. In addition to the bath salts, the chemicals can be found in plant foods that are sold legally at convenience stores and on the Internet.
Cathinone, the parent substance of the drugs, comes from a plant grown in Africa and is regulated, but MDPV and mephedrone are synthetic and are not regulated because they are not marketed for human consumption.
According to Dr. Cyrus Ragan, assistant medical director for the California Poison Control, this is an “emerging problem.”
“These are not your regular bath salts,” Ragan said. “They’re called bath salts because the crystals resemble what we know as bath salts. This is a different compound and is potentially fatal.”
Locally, the bath salts can be easily purchased at any smoke shop on Hollywood Blvd, although customers must be at least 18 years old to enter the premises, since they sell tobacco products. At Black Myst, a smoke shop and hookah lounge located at 6702 Hollywood Blvd., they have been selling the bath soaps for six months and sell at least five a week. Half a gram sells for approximately $50. And even though anyone with a credit card can buy the bath salts online, many like to purchase over the counter.
“People see it on the shelves and think it’s better,” said Brian, an employee at Black Myst who would not give his last name.
At Mike’s Smoke Shop at 6702 Hollywood Blvd., they sell roughly 40 bath salts, in particular, the brand Magic Plant Feeder, each week. They have even given out free samples to customers.
“Customers compare it to cocaine,” said Adam, an employee at Mike’s Smoke Shop who would also not reveal his last name. “They can’t sleep, but that’s probably the effect they’re going for.”
Koretz could not believe the bath salts were being given away to lure potential customers.
“I don’t think it’s a very good idea, primarily when they’re used for drug purposes,” Koretz said. “This has the worst effects of many drugs, it creates the strength and aggressiveness of PCP, and the hallucinations of LSD. Clearly some action must be taken.”
Although the stores will not instruct customers how to use the bath salts, Adam at Mike’s Smoke Shop said “you can Google it” to find out.
Rick Gellar, medical director for the California Poison Control System, said the first call about the substances came on Oct. 5 and a handful of calls have since followed. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 251 calls related to bath salts to poison control centers in January alone, compared to 236 for all of 2010.
“The only way this won’t become a problem in California is if federal regulatory agencies get ahead of the curve,” Gellar said. “This is a brand new thing.”
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