Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Edwin Pierce says that communication at both the local and state levels has been the key weapon in combatting the ever-growing problem of “bath salts” use.
That communication likely will lead to sweeping legislation that has been attached to the state’s budget bill which would take effect July 1.
Pierce said that an amendment has been proposed to add onto Ohio House Bill 153, The Ohio biennial operations budget bill, which will declare the drug as a controlled substance in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC).
Pierce had been contact with state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and state Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, as recently as two weeks ago and discussed the problem while attending an unrelated meeting. An initially proposed bill did not gain much traction, but the bill is now gaining notice and support as an amendment to the budget bill.
“Everyone agrees that there are some loopholes as far as the legality or possession of bath
salts in the ORC,” Pierce said. “We need to close those loopholes.
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“Law enforcement is saying this is as significant of a drug as any they have seen in a long time because of the depth of the hallucinogenic effects,” he said.
“Bath salts,” which contain the active ingredients methylenedioxypyrovalerone and mephedrone, is a synthetic psychoactive drug which can be ingested, snorted, injected and smoked. Since both chemicals are analogs of illegal substances that are prohibited by a federal act, but since they are not sold for human consumption then they can be placed on retail shelves labeled as “bath salts.”
The budget bill is currently in Conference Committee between the Senate and the House. Pierce said hopefully it would be out of committee within a week and ready for vote by the Ohio Assembly and signature by Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Pierce said it doesn’t appear that there will be any counter to the amendment.
“It is a great first step,” Pierce said. “We are headed in the right direction.”
The amendment will allow the state to include bath salts as a “Schedule 1” drug in the Ohio Revised Code concerning controlled substances. That would put the drug on an equal or similar level with other drugs controlled under Schedule 1 such as Psilocybin (mushrooms), LSD, morphine, oxycontin (or oxycodone), LSD, ecstasy and heroin, with some of those drugs also having separate and additional control sanctions.
If the budget bill is passed with the amendment, Ohio would be one of the first states to make “bath salts” illegal for sale, use and distribution following Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Kentucky.
More recently, New Bremen Village Council members passed an ordinance banning bath salts. Earlier this week, Lima City Council members used an ordinance developed by the city of Mansfield as a blueprint for its ordinance banning bath salts.
On Tuesday, Wapakoneta City Council Health and Safety Committee members recommended city Law Director Dennis Faller develop an ordinance based on the state amendment and the city of Mansfield’s ordinance for enforcement in Wapakoneta.
“As people have probably seen in press coverage, many local municipalities from Lima to New Bremen have already taken action on this new growing scourge which is synthetic drugs mislabeled as bath salts, much like K-2 which is a synthetic marijuana,” Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr., who chairs the Health and Safety Committee, said after the meeting on Tuesday. “Since it is technically a legal product, it is too easily available and becoming a problem for law enforcement.
“The reports we have received from Police Chief Russ Hunlock is that this is an escalating problem so we want to do something quickly,” he said. “I feel the will is there to take some action before the state takes action on this matter.”
Pierce says communication with local businesses as well has helped reduce the immediate availability of the drug to the public. Area law enforcement officers have volunteered to travel to Columbus to testify before the General Assembly on the matter.
“All of the area police chiefs at the various departments have expressed a major concern over bath salts,” Pierce said. “They have been a major concern for about a month. They came upon the county rather quickly. I have talked to other county prosecutors who have not even heard of the problem yet. Many of them that have heard about knew only what they have read.”
Pierce said local law enforcement has made it a priority to visit area businesses that have been commonly known for selling the substance.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon and Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock visited three establishments in Wapakoneta who had bath salts on their shelves. Two of the three took them off the shelves after the visit, pledging not to sell them. The third continued but Solomon and Hunlock intended to make a second visit to stress the dangers of the drug.
He said the law enforcement has been active in public education at the businesses as to the problems and ill effects on the local communities.
Pierce said there are six separate chemicals all used it bath salts that will independently be added to the Schedule 1 list. He noted more than five cases have came to his office ever since bath salts reared their ugly head in the county.
“The problem is there is no legislation to do anything as far as use right now,” Pierce said. “The cases we have had have been in reference to other things that have happened as a result of someone using the drug, such as abuse or assault, acting out or obstructions of justice.”
He said local residents should not underestimate the effect of the epidemic. The drug has become popular due to the chemicals involved that promote a combined potency and prolongtivity effect that rivals meth and heroin.
Managing Editor William Laney contributed to this story.