August 31, 2011
Rep. Seth Berry at work at the Capitol promoting his law against bath salts (the drug) photo by R. du Houx
As more and more Mainers have now learned, a white powder often marketed as “bath salts” is being snorted, smoked, and injected by a growing number of users seeking a cocaine high. Drug enforcement officials say products with names such as Purple Rain, Ivory Wave,Pure Ivory, Vanilla Sky, Ocean Burst, and Bolivian Bath are consumed as a drug that was still legal in most states just two months ago.

However, a new law sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry made Maine the third state to ban the possession of the substance, which induces paranoia and hallucinations that can last for days.

Bath salts have street names of Monkey Dust and Kryptonite. The man-made chemical in bath salts, Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, blocks neurotransmitters in the brain and can stop it from making dopamine, which controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. The chemical reaction of MDPV promotes full-blown

Rep. Berry warned Maine of the potential for an epidemic here in February 2011.

“A woman who took the drug in Florida tried to cut her mother’s head off with a machete, thinking that she was a monster,”said Rep. Berry. He continued: “the problem has recently arrived in Maine — and it is growing fast.”

According to the Northern New England Poison Control Center, confirmed poisonings of at least one a month began last summer. In March 2011 that number increased tenfold. In Bangor a man who had taken substituted cathinones (the bath salts) reportedly approached a woman and hit her across the face with an ice trap for no reason.”

Penobscot County had 25 emergency calls out of 88 statewide between January and July for people suffering from the effects of these chemicals. More than 29 overdoses of “bath salts” were reported to Maine hospitals in June. Since then, the problem appears to have skyrocketed in Bangor, Waterville, and other areas in Maine.

Berry’s bill, “An Act to Prohibit the Sale or Possession of So-Called Bath Salts Containing Dangerous Synthetic Drugs,” made the use of these substances a felony and possession a misdemeanor. Possession of the drug, while armed, or sale to a juvenile is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Berry originally proposed far stronger penalties and also called for enhanced education and prevention efforts, but the increased cost of these measures was not funded by the Governor and Legislature’s final budget.

The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that the effects of these “fake cocaine” bath salts are violent in users. Many reactions include hallucinations, severe anxiety, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, combative behavior, aggression, seizures, increased blood pressure and kidney failure. These drugs are available in convenience stores, head shops, and over the Internet — marketed for the young. The drugs have been popular in Europe for several years.

“This isn’t a short ten-minute high or a two-hour high that then leaves you ready to go about your day,” said Dr. Karen Simone director for the Northern New England Poison Control Center. “For some individuals, this is life-changing. Their heart rates are fast, the blood pressures are elevated, some of them are overheating, they’re having some muscle destruction that’s leading to kidneys not working well, and the worst problem is that they get very very agitated and paranoid.”

Despite the bad effects, Berry notes the substance appears to be highly addictive. “We’re hearing from people at the poison control centers in the south, that have dealt with this more — that there are intense cravings for this drug after you take it,” said Berry.

The abuse problem in Maine was first noticed in Penobscot County when a man from Howland who had beaten a woman with a wooden ice-fishing trap tried to break into an apartment and assault another woman before police arrived. It took three policemen and a concerned citizen to subdue the man.

Berry’s law was enacted as emergency legislation, won bipartisan support and was one of the few bills to receive funding. At press time, reports were circulating that the Governor now supported measures similar to those Berry had originally proposed back in February.