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Deputies: Bath salts a growing headache

Dangerous drug in spotlight after face-chewing assault in Miami

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

With recent headlines about a man high on bath salts nearly gnawing off another man’s face in broad daylight last week in Miami, Lincoln County Sheriff Deputy M. Hill sat down with the Times-News on Friday to further explain the composition and harsh effects of the drug community’s newest friend, which is rapidly becoming law enforcement officers’ most frightening foe.
Hill said the tan/white substance resembles powdered sugar and that due to its lack of medical use, is classified as a schedule I drug. To distinguish between sugar and bath salts, Hill noted that bath salts often clump when exposed to air and have an unusual chemical odor. Despite these main identifiers, deputies require that a suspected seizure of the substance undergo lab testing to determine its true nature.
Most bath salts contain the synthetic chemical Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), but there are numerous other stimulants that offer the substance’s unprecedented high.
“It gives you that euphoria and energy,” Hill said.
While stereotypes suggest that illegal drugs are picked up in back allies and other inconspicuous places, people legally purchased bath salts both online and in convenient stores until June 1, 2011, when state legislation banned businesses from selling the substance.
“There’s not the stigma of having to meet a dealer to get it,” Hill said.
He added that the salts usually come in 1.5 gram plastic containers marked as plant food, shoe polish or glass cleaner and create a quicker, more intense high than a majority of other drugs, including cocaine.
Prior to the law going into effect, local deputies passed out fliers and notified local stores of the state’s upcoming stance against the substance.
“If they didn’t get rid of them, they’d be prosecuted,” he said.
Hill noted that more than a year after North Carolina enacted the law, some county stores still illegally keep the drug behind their counters and sell the salts to customers willing to pay a high price.
“There are a couple of open cases coming in from the TIP line and Crime Stoppers,” he said.
Hill would not reveal the stores’ names.
As with any drug, Hill said individuals have found ways to get around the law by making their own version of the substance, giving them a partial high without using the illegal chemicals.
“It (bath salts) has to have those listed chemicals (in the law) to pursue criminal charges,” he said.
Hill said that since 2011, Lincoln County deputies have worked at least five different cases involving bath salts, but that based on the area’s population, the statistics are “average.”
“We know there’s more,” he said. “There’s always going to be more than we could ever get.”
He did note that other counties across the state have seen an increased amount of activity including Pitt County, where officers recently seized more than $1,000 of the substance, and Iredell County, where a man high on bath salts ran out in front of traffic.
According to Hill, none of the stories he’s heard have trumped what’s been labeled a “zombie attack” in Miami, Fla., earlier this month, after a man accused of using the substance tried to eat a homeless man’s face.
While studies have yet to be done showing the long-term effects of abusing bath salts, Hill judged that a drug user’s body doesn’t stand a chance against the substance, producing damage similar to that caused by cocaine or heroin.
As far as preventing the use of bath salts, Hill said deputies are going to have to educate themselves more on the topic in order to free the drug community of the toxic substance and get addicted individuals clean.
“It’s going to take more involvement than arrests,” he said. “The more information we get that leads us to more people will give us a start.”
Hill encouraged residents to call the narcotics TIP line at (704) 736-8606 or Crime Stoppers at (704) 736-8909 with regard to any suspicious area activity.

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