Law gains weapons against drugs ‘bath salts,’ ‘spice’

Packets sometimes sold in some glass pipe shops are now illegal, officials say

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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You can go into some of the glass pipe shops in Clark County and see folks buying colorful, mysterious little packets that are often labeled as incense or potpourri and sell for $10 or more.

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The Washington Poison Control Center says drugs sold in some glass pipe shops as “bath salts” contain the chemical methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV:

“Users report that these chemicals elicit extreme adverse events, causing intense cravings akin to methamphetamine use. Effects of MDPV include increased blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, hallucinations/delusions, extreme paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. Many patients report uncontrolled cravings for more of the substance and bingeing for 2 to 3 days, yet the chemical does not show up in drug tests.”

If those products were to include Spice, K-2, Ivory Wave, White Lightning, “plant food” and “bath salts,” they would be illegal under an emergency temporary rule adopted this year, and the Washington Department of Health’s Board of Pharmacy voted Sept. 8 to ban them permanently.

The contents of these products are made to mimic the feelings of using methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, Ecstasy or marijuana, according to a bulletin from the health department.

The reason for the bans is because synthetic compounds in the powders, or sprayed on some of the dried plant contents, are harmful to users’ bodies and also can affect their judgment, officials say.

Bath salts “are probably the worst synthetic drug I’ve ever seen,” said Jim Williams, executive director of the Washington Poison Center in Seattle.

The drug can cause extreme paranoia and has led to several deaths, he said.

A 31-year-old man who was found dead in the Spokane River last month “had psychological problems that were aggravated by his addiction to a hallucinogenic drug sold as ‘bath salts,’” according to a story published Monday in The Spokesman-Review.

His name was Christopher Don Rogers and, before he died, he experienced “drug-induced delusions,” the story said.

“He ended up at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center this summer — delusional and dehydrated from hours of running around barefoot in downtown Spokane high on bath salts,” the newspaper said.

“Bath salts made him feel like Superman, but he was acting like a maniac,” a longtime family friend told the newspaper.

Bath salts and some of the other banned products are powders that users snort like cocaine; the incenses and potpourris made of doctored-up dried herbs, spices and flowers can be burned and inhaled in various ways.

Finding out whether people in Vancouver are using bath salts or the other newly banned drugs proved difficult.

“We probably do get some people under the influence of these things,” said Dr. Cameron Mitchell, an emergency room physician at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Cameron said “multiple people” end up in the emergency department daily under the influence of drugs. Mostly, he said, doctors don’t know exactly which drug a patient is affected by, and the patient might not know, either.

“There are no readily available tests” for these drugs, he added.

At the House of Smoke, 10300 East Mill Plain Blvd., a clerk said that the items mentioned had been taken off shelves a couple months ago because of previous bans. The Columbian saw none in the glass cases. But a hundred packets with other names — contents and legal status unknown — were offered for sale.

In fairness to local glass pipe stores and their clerks, a reporter went to several more, on East Fourth Plain Boulevard and state Highway 99 in Hazel Dell, and found no bath salts or other banned products named in a bulletin the health department issued Monday.

But young men in one store were talking about “head rushes” and other sensations from the packages that were for sale.

Authority to prosecute

“The rule will go into effect no later than Nov. 3,” the bulletin says. “The ban gives clear authority to law enforcement to prosecute for the manufacture, distribution, sale, and possession of these substances.”

It adds: “The board will continue to work with prosecutors and the Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory to update the list of banned substances, as needed.”

Now that some of the products are becoming illegal under state law, that gives local police authority to target them, according to the pharmacy board.

The Washington health department bulletin says the products previously were banned by the federal government:

“Based on complaints and reports to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement, the DEA recently announced a yearlong, nationwide ban. Several countries and 30 states have already taken action to make these substances illegal.”

Synthetic cannabinoids were originally developed for medical testing and research but gained popularity in recent years as legal cousins to marijuana, officials say. They are typically sold in foil packets that are labeled as incense or potpourri, complete with the warning “Not For Human Consumption.”

Last year, a nonprofit Vancouver drug-treatment facility, Daybreak Youth Services, contacted The Columbian to report many of its teenage clients’ saying synthetic pot was popular because it was legal at the time, extremely potent and not detected by a standard urinalysis.

The health department provides more information at http://doh.wa.gov/hsqa/Professions/Pharmacy/SpiceBathSalts.htm. That page gives a detailed list with more brand names for the banned products, and it explains the main chemicals involved.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.