People who do the drugs react in many ways. A California man snorted a nose-full and became so paranoid he shot himself in the head. A Pennsylvania man got high on the drug pointed a gun at a woman’s head and then tried to stick her with a hypodermic needle.
They are called synthetic designer drugs, or bath salts, K2 and spice. Most are available online or in smoke shops. Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, wants the dangerous drugs stamped out of Montana for good.
“Bath Salts actually make people crazy,” Berry said. “It makes them do crazy things. We’re just trying to get these bath salts under control.”
The U.S. Navy recently released a video showing the side effects of using bath salts. The man in the video starts hallucinating, hits his girlfriend, shoves his roommate and wakes up restrained in a hospital bed. The message of the video is clear: bath salts aren’t a fad, they are a nightmare.
The 2013 “Streetdrugs” guide describes bath salts as a synthetic stimulant that amps up the central nervous system, not grandma’s relaxing bath pearls. The chemical used to make bath salts comes from the khat plant. In African and Arabian countries where khat naturally grows, people chew the plant leaves as a way to reach a euphoric state and suppress the appetite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 states banned bath salts by February 2012. In an effort to make the drugs illegal in Montana, Berry crafted a bill at the beginning of this legislative session that would criminalize bath salts and other designer drugs.
In the past, Berry said the Federal Drug Administration would make one strain of the bath salts illegal, so manufacturers slightly altered the ingredients and slapped a “not for human consumption” label on the drugs and sent them to smoke shop shelves around the state once again. The bill just passed the House Judiciary Committee and is headed for a first reading in the Senate on March 12.
Last week, new Attorney General Tim Fox crafted a press release detailing his top priorities this session. Berry’s bath salt bill made the list.
Fox also said he will push for a specialist at the State Crime Lab who can specifically detect synthetic drugs.
Berry’s son was brutally murdered by another teenager high on methamphetamine in 2000. For him, passing bills like HB 140 will help protect other families from the pain he has experienced.
“I am parent who went through the anguish of losing a son to drugs,” Berry said. “I’m carrying the torch for families so they don’t have to go through that.”
Berry’s bill is 32-pages long. The length is meant to fortify the bill, Berry said.
“The reason we introduced it was because last session I introduced a synthetic drug bill,” Berry said. “But then the drug people moved the chemicals a little bit on the synthetic marijuana and stuff. They just tweak things a little and make it legal.”
The bill contains definitions about administering drugs and a “dangerous drug analogue.”
The analogue states that drugs derived from chemicals similar to bath salts will be banned. So even if a drug has legal ingredients, if it produces “a physiological effect similar to or greater than the effect of a dangerous drug,” it will be illegal if HB 140 passes.
Most of the bill, however, reads like a foreign language. Pages and pages of opiates, steroids, depressants and stimulants dominate the 32-pages. By creating such an exhaustive list of illegals, Berry hopes to change the drug culture in Montana.
“We’re listing about 20 pages of drugs in this bill,” he said. “Even if they (manufacturers) tweak it to change the drug and throw some little drug in there that offsets it, we say no in this bill. It’s illegal.”
The bill would also help law enforcement legally crack down on synthetic drug users. That would be a big win, Missouri River Drug Task Force Lieutenant Jake Wagner says.
“The bill would be beneficial to give us more teeth in law enforcement,” Wagner said. “Right now we have very little legal recourse against synthetic drugs.”
Wagner said synthetic drugs are especially popular in high school and college crowds. The drugs are manufactured overseas in mega labs and shipped to the states. For online shoppers, synthetic drugs can be purchased by anyone 18 and older.
In Belgrade, police have seen a rise in the designer drugs.
“The legislature and FDA and AG has made this push to criminalize these synthetic drugs,” Belgrade Sergeant Detective Dustin Lensing said. “Unfortunately we always seem to be a step behind because manufacturers always seem to change the chemical composition.”
Lensing said police would like see an across the board criminalization all types of intoxicating drugs. Without HB 140, it’s very hard to charge synthetic drug users with a crime, unless they are participating in a secondary crime, like burglary.
For over-the-counter synthetic drugs, like spice, Lensing said Belgrade police are looking at charging users with possession of a toxic substance.
Berry admits the bill may be greeted with controversy.
“But if we don’t do this, we’ll always be one step behind drugs dealers,” Berry said.