State bans ‘bath salt’ drugs

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A drug commonly sold as “bath salts” or “plant food” is beginning to cause many negative effects in Shelby County and across the state, leading Alabama to issue an emergency ban on the substance on Feb. 22.

The Saginaw-based Shelby County Drug Free Coalition recently joined similar organizations from across the state in urging Alabama officials to pass the emergency ban.

The substance consists of either white, brown or tan powder and usually comes in small half-gram packets, said Shelby County Drug Free Coalition Project Coordinator Carol Williams. The powder is coated in a central nervous system stimulant chemical, and can either be smoked, snorted or injected.

When used, the drug causes effects similar to cocaine, Ecstasy or crystal methamphetamine. Most packets cost between $25-$35, and are available online under names like “Ivory Wave,” “Red Dove,” “Bliss,” “Purple Wave” and “Vanilla Sky.”

Because the drug is sold as “bath salts,” “plant food” or a novelty item labeled “not for human consumption,” the manufacturers are able to sell the drugs without adhering to Food and Drug Administration guidelines, Williams said.

Most of the drugs are manufactured in other states and sold online, and have already had some dangerous effects on users in Alabama and Shelby County.

“It’s not a huge problem here yet, but it’s starting to be,” Williams said. “Most of it is coming in from other states. They’ve already banned it overseas. I think Great Britain was the first to ban it countrywide.”

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and State Health Officer Dr. Donald Williamson announced the emergency ban on the substance Feb. 22.

The emergency ban will remain in place until the Alabama Legislature passes a permanent ban during the 2011 legislative session, Williams said. State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, likely will propose the legislation, Williams said.

“They are passing an emergency ban today. And then Senator Orr will introduce legislation later this year to make the ban more permanent,” Williams said.

The drug affects all ages and demographics, but its use has been more prominent among those in their 20s and 30s, Williams said.

“I was speaking to some seventh-graders, and one of them said someone they knew was using this drug,” she said. “The person had been up for three days, and thought it was just awesome.

“That’s what this substance does to people. It just wires them,” Williams added.

The emergency ban will be a proactive step to curb the problem before it becomes a larger issue, Williams said.

“I’m extremely happy that they are enacting this ban,” she said. “A lot of times, they come up with these substances faster than we can regulate them, and we have to ban them retroactively.

“This is a great step toward addressing the problem before it becomes a bigger problem,” Williams added.