Lawmakers look to make ‘bath salts’ illegal in New Jersey

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: New Jersey would become the fourth state to criminalize the manufacture, sale or possession of “bath salts” drugs, if dubbed “Pamela’s Law” is approved by the full Legislature and signed into law.

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“Red X Dawn: SPARK 2″

The bill, named after Pamela Schmidt, a Rutgers student who was murdered while she was believed under the influence of bath salts, cleared an Assembly committee this morning.

Sold in gas stations and smoke shops — with names such as “Energizing Aromatherapy,” “Down2Earth White Horse,” “Kamikaze,” “Ivory Wave” and “Vanilla Sky” — the drugs have been associated with intense, severe side effects that have led to suicidal thoughts, self-mutilation, and violent outbursts, state officials have said.

“Given the dangerous side effects caused by these substances, it’s my hope that this legislation will help save lives,” said Bergen County Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “Criminalizing its sale and possession will help limit the avenues for obtaining this product, and hopefully help us avoid more tragedies….”

The measure, if approved, criminalizes the possession, manufacture and sale of products containing narcotic substances such as mephedrone or methylenedioxpyrovalerone, commonly known as MDPV, adding to the list of list of Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substances in New Jersey.

Mephedrone is made from a chemical based on compounds found in the East African “khat” plant, which caused an uproar nearly a decade ago when people began importing and smoking it.

Similar to amphetamine, it accelerates the heart rate, makes you puke, convulse or become paranoid and even delusional — if it doesn’t give you a seizure first. The effects can last for days, sometimes producing “psychotic symptoms,” experts say.

Florida, Louisiana and North Dakota are the only other states that have banned the substances.

“Shady retailers are playing a deadly game, selling highly dangerous drugs with fake labels like ‘bath salts’ or ‘plant food’ to evade the law,” New Jersey Attorney Paula Dow said earlier this year, as state officials enacted a temporary emergency ban.

Although European authorities have been grappling with it more than a year — street dealers there quickly added it to their stashes once the substance was banned — the “new” drug literally hit the U.S. radar late last fall. Since then, numbers have climbed quickly at poison control centers, mostly in the South and Southwest.

New Jersey officials have begun seeing the effects at an increasing rate.

The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System has received dozens of reports of “bath salts” drug use since Jan. 1. Most have required emergency treatment, officials said.

In one case, a user who fell and was hurt was still so “aggressive, agitated, and confused” in the emergency room — literally foaming at the mouth, his heart beating at double the usual rate — that the staff had to sedate him and hook him to a respirator in order to treat him, authorities said.

Another user had to be taken by ambulance to an emergency room after having snorted the salts the day before. She reported being unable to “come down” despite taking sleep medication.  The patient was unable to stop shaking her head back and forth, and unable to stop moving her limbs. She said she felt like she was “coming out of her skin.”

“The intensity of these reports is alarming, especially given the unusually high number of cases within a short period of time, and the severity of their symptoms,” said Dr. Steven M. Marcus, Medical and Executive Director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System. “Based on these concerns, this appears to be a crucial time for New Jersey to step in and ban these dangerous substances.”

Manufactured in China and India, the packages clearly say, “Not for human consumption,” but authorities  have said the that they’ve been sold in convenience stores, headshops and online suggest something about the manufacturers’ intent.

What frightens physicians more than anything is the potential for long-term damage, given the fact that not enough time has passed for any type of meaningful study.

“Users may have believed this new breed of designer drug was somehow safer than cocaine or methamphetamines simply because it wasn’t specifically targeted by the law,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs.

“The disturbing reality,” he said, “is [that] these substances have been linked to severe health consequences and chilling acts of violence and self-mutilation. With only weeks to go before the start of the summer season, we are striking with this swift intervention in order to get these drugs out of retail establishments and away from anyone who might use them.”

“These chemicals have no valid medical use and can only cause life-threatening harm to those who ingest them,” said Dr. Christina Tan, Acting State Deputy Health Commissioner.

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