WASHINGTON -- With death and hospitalization tolls mounting, many states are acting fast to pass laws that combat synthetic drugs such as bath salts.
Stateline.org reports that Delaware Gov. Jack Markell enacted legislation that permanently bans synthetic bath salts, the common name for chemical compounds that mimic the potentially euphoric effects of meth or LSD.
Users of synthetic bath salts inject, snort or smoke the powdery substance, which can cause extremely violent paranoia, spikes in body temperature and cardiac arrest.
"People under the influence of these bath salts are so out-of-control and violent that they've injured nurses and EMS providers, making it difficult to provide the necessary treatment," Delaware state Rep. Rebecca Walker said in a statement, who is also a practicing nurse. "My biggest concern is for members of the community who may be violently attacked. Permanently banning this dangerous designer drug is an important step in protecting Delawareans."
Stateline writes that according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), so far this year lawmakers in 26 states have introduced bills relating to synthetic bath salts, including bans, adding them to lists of controlled substances and creating penalties for possession and distribution.
These synthetic compounds arrived on the scene in late 2010, notes the news source, and state legislators have been trying to keep up with the ever-changing chemical makeup of these drugs, which are manufactured in homes or professional laboratories with packaging labeled "not for human consumption" to circumvent regulatory requirements.
"The first round of laws that we saw were states banning the substances we knew were in the drugs, but then the manufacturers changed them," Alison Lawrence, a policy for NCSL's criminal justice program, told the news source, adding, "The later rounds of laws are a more generic type of ban. The language has been developed by legislatures consulting with health boards and law enforcement to come up with language which captures all of the bad substances, without limiting chemicals that scientists need."
According to NCSL, 31 states enacted some type of restrictions on synthetic bath salts and their most common ingredients in 2011. However, these are just one of many synthetic drugs that have come to states' attention in the last few years. Synthetic cannabinoids, called "K2" or "spice," mimic the effects of marijuana but have much more dangerous side effects. NCSL says that at least 40 states have banned the drugs, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency banned five chemicals used to make K2 last year.
In the U.S. Congress, House-passed legislation to prohibit the sale of synthetic marijuana and other drugs known as "bath salts" and "plant food" has been delayed indefinitely in the Senate.