Vt. ‘bath’ salts ban taking hold
By David Taube
STAFF WRITER | October 26,2012
BARRE — Medical problems caused by synthetic drugs commonly known as “bath salts” appear to have significantly dropped in Vermont, since a ban on them was imposed earlier this year.
However, Barre’s mayor and the governor both said Thursday they haven’t declared a victory on the drugs.
“The battle’s not won yet, but we’re making good progress,” said Human Services Secretary Douglas Racine, speaking Thursday from the Barre City Police Department.
Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon and Gov. Peter Shumlin said while they couldn’t declare a victory over the public’s drug abuse of bath salts, progress has been made in recent months.
“It’s not off my bucket list; it’s not off the governor’s bucket list,” Lauzon said.
The Northern New England Poison Control Center had one call for a “bath salts”-related issue in Vermont in 2010; 16 calls in 2011, officials said. For the first half of this year, the number of calls was 18, Racine said.
Since July 22, when the ban was imposed, there have been no calls, Racine said.
The state filed an emergency ban on bath salts in 2011, seeking to stay ahead of the issue. In July, another emergency ban affected 86 designer drugs, which consisted of 32 new bath salts or synthetic stimulant drugs, nine synthetic mescalines and 45 different types of synthetic cannabinoids, which are also referred to as fake marijuana.
To prevent manufacturers from tweaking compounds to avoid the bans, the state submitted a rule in September that covers derivatives.
“These drugs are so new because their chemical make-up is constantly changing,” Lauzon said. “Medical professionals can’t even tell us for people ... who abused bath salts what their long-term prognosis is.”
Bath salts are powders that can be snorted, smoked, swallowed or injected, according to the state Health Department. They are not the same as traditional household that uses the same name, the department says.
People who use these drugs can suffer high temperatures, seizures, muscle breakdown, kidney failure, heart rhythm disturbances and death, according to the Health Department.
Patients admitted to the emergency department at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington didn’t know who or where they were, and without medication, they would have hurt others or themselves, said nurse manager Kristin Baker.
But certain medications to provide relief of symptoms weren’t working, so the hospital a few months ago implemented a new medication to deal with the problems, she said. Doctors were familiar with the need for a new medication, but the Northern New England Poison Control Center also provided an advisory.
Dr. Mark Depman, medical director of the Central Vermont Medical Center’s emergency department, said the Berlin hospital saw a real crescendo in the number of people having toxic side effects from bath salts from late 2011 to late spring of this year.
By mid-summer, however, the medical center saw a decline in severe side effects from bath salts, and the intensive care unit hasn’t seen anyone with side effects from the drugs since, he said.
Now the medical center has about one case a week where they find a person has used bath salts, but even those cases haven’t had the severe side effects as hospital officials saw previously, Depman said.
Officials said the decrease was due to legal and educational efforts.
Lauzon said many people had emailed him on the issue, including parents who had talked about drugs with their children but never about bath salts. They frankly didn’t know what the drugs were, even though their children did, Lauzon warned.
“People were equating ‘legal’ with ‘safe,’” Lauzon said.
Shumlin credited the reason for the drop to the lack of supply.
“There’s clearly not a supply route coming through the community right now that we can detect,” Depman said. “We really just hope to see it disappear soon.”