COLUMBUS OHIO– Salty additives to bath water have been used for centuries for their supposed cleansing and healing properties.
But the scented products found on shelves at health and beauty stores aren’t what police across Ohio will be on the lookout for when a new state law takes effect Monday.
House Bill 64, signed into law in July, bans the possession, use and sale of products containing an array of specific chemicals. Targeted by the bill are synthetic marijuana products commonly known as “K2 incense” or “Spice” incense and another group of products called “bath salts.”
Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville, and state Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl, R-Mount Vernon, co-sponsored the legislation.
“K2 and bath salts have already taken the lives of many Ohioans,” Burke said. “As a pharmacist, I understand the effect these substances have on the human body. Making these products illegal is the only way to stop the shadowy underworld of these designer drugs.”
With brand names like “Cloud 9,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Blue Magic,” bath salts can be found in small envelopes or lip gloss-sized containers.
The popularity of the products, still legal in some states, has risen dramatically in the past year. In 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported poison centers across the country received 303 calls about the use of bath salts. Centers reported receiving 5,226 such calls as of Sept. 30 this year.
Chemicals found in the imitation marijuana products also will be outlawed by the new law. A change earlier this year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration made possession or sale of products containing any of five chemicals illegal by federal law.
Fremont Police Chief Tim Wiersma said the popularity of “K2” products seemed to spike in 2010, before a DEA decision made the products illegal, and bath salts have become popular just in the past year.
“I don’t see why someone would want to subject themselves to this huge paranoia that seems to go along with it,” Wiersma said of “bath salts” users. “There is just nothing good about it.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency has listed methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a component in many of the bath salts, as a drug of concern. According to the DEA’s fact sheet, MDPV is a central nervous system stimulant that can cause effects similar to those induced by cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy.
These effects include feelings of empathy, stimulation, alertness, euphoria and awareness of the senses. Experts also say the drug can cause increased heart rates, higher blood pressure, severe chest pains, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, delusional thinking, violent outbursts and self-mutilation.
“The chest pains can be so severe that some people have told us they thought they were dying,” Clyde police Sgt. Mark Roach said.
According to the DEA, the effects from MDPV can last three to four hours, with residual effects continuing six to eight hours after use.
Port Clinton police detained a man Friday who was apparently under the influence of bath salts and acting out of control. The officer handling the call was not available for comment.
Brian Weaver, a detective with the Clyde Police Department, said some local cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin users have moved on to drugs like bath salts, some even preferring them to the previous alternatives.
“We only hear about the extreme cases,” Weaver said. “If people knew what this stuff was, I don’t think they would be happy about it being sold in their community.”
In Ottawa County, police have handled only a handful of calls related to people high on bath salts.
In August, a 24-year-old Port Clinton man was charged with abusing harmful intoxicants after police found him intoxicated in public and he admitted to snorting bath salts. An 18-year-old Port Clinton man was charged with the same in September.
Newly appointed Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick, who served as a captain at the office before retiring a year ago, said he has heard of cases of people under the influence of bath salts.
“It’s actually a growing trend,” Levorchick said. “It sounds like it completely alters a person.”
A 48-year-old Townsend Township man was arrested and hospitalized after Sandusky County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of a man acting strangely in a front yard. Deputies said the man was sitting in a planter full of water, wildly swinging a wrench, when they arrived.
The man told deputies he had used bath salts in the morning and said he was seeing “orbs” and “demons.”
Weaver said one man under the influence of bath salts had uncontrollable body movements and extreme paranoia after injecting the powder found in the products.
“He just couldn’t control himself,” he said. “He was talking 100 miles an hour.”
A York Township couple was arrested on charges of endangering children in April after police reported they were ingesting bath salts, a brand called “Posh.” The husband was found along Sandusky County Road 264 trying to get inside homes; he told deputies his wife was trying to kill him.
Fremont police Chief Tim Wiersma said when use of bath salts became popular, he politely asked two businesses selling the drug to stop. One complied, Wiersma said, but the other did not.
“It’s harmful and it’s harming people,” he said, recounting what he told employees at the businesses.
Under House Bill 64, penalties for the possession or trafficking of “K2 incense” will be the same as enforced for marijuana — a minor misdemeanor for possession and a fifth-degree felony for trafficking in the vicinity of a school or juvenile.
Levorchick said deputies plan to enforce the law once it hits the books Monday.
“Come Monday, obviously, we will enforce any infractions of those laws and we will pursue anyone who is selling it,” he said.
Wiersma said his department will work to make sure Fremont stays free of the newly illegal drugs.
“We will check to see who is selling it and take appropriate action,” he said.