As bath salts-dealing gangs continue to spread through the Northeastern and Midwestern United States turning recession-hit communities into post-apocalyptic “zombie” wastelands where homeless and unemployed Americans who have fallen through the cracks loose themselves to hopelessness and the dangerous synthetic substance, authorities are scrambling to crack on distributors and amend laws in the hopes of solving the problem. But, is it working?
The most recent bath salts-related incidents reported include rival gangs already fighting to control territories in Indiana, as well as a Utica man – reportedly under the influence – hiding on the roof of his girlfriend house. And it doesn’t end there; men and women covered in blood wandering through rural areas in the Midwest and Northeast, and trying to break into private property (abandoned or not) are sights which no longer belong exclusively to horror and sci-fi films but that have become a scary American reality.
And the picture complicates as authorities are faced with different methods of manufacturing and distribution, which makes prevention and prosecution even harder. Unlike meth labs, which can be found in semi-abandoned trailers and stables, bath salts are reportedly imported from China and Europe, an additional variable that could prompt manufacturers to set up “home-grown” factories if the crackdown on smoking shops and convenience stores increases.
Authorities are also concerned about the substances themselves, as its diversity and accessibility has been a challenge to track down, indentify and ban. The active ingredients commonly found in bath salts – methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, pyrovalerone, and methylone – are said to have originated in France during the 1920s and brought to the United States for the first time in the 1960s (which hardly makes then a new phenomenon). However, it wasn’t until the mid 2000s, when its “recreational” use because widespread – thanks in part to a unscrupulous chemist who reportedly published the recipe on the internet.
In the meantime, and highlighting the severity of this growing epidemic, Congress is poised to send a ban on chemicals used in synthetic drug mixtures to the president's desk at any time. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) has been the leading anti-bath salts crusader on Capitol Hill for more than a year, introducing a bill in March 2011 to add a long list of chemicals found in variations of designer drugs known as bath salts to the Drug Enforcement Agency's list of controlled substances.
The bill passed the House overwhelmingly in December, but a version of a bath salts ban was blocked in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who argued that drug enforcement should be left up to the states.