Raids to target bath salts, cops say
Letters to be mailed to select local businesses will threaten raids and other enforcement action, and soon, if they’re not in compliance with measures signed into law last week by Gov. John Hickenlooper banning possession and sale of bath-salts products, according to Mesa County’s top drug prosecutor.
“We will give a specific date in the letter for compliance and will not be joking,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said.
The threats of action come nearly eight months after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration issued an emergency order banning three stimulants commonly used to make bath salts — powdery synthetics producing an effect similar to cocaine — while authorities hope Colorado’s new law will close loopholes that allowed some products to remain on shelves unchecked.
“We don’t want to start rounding up businessmen, but we will if we have to,” Rubinstein said.
DRUGS ON THE RADAR
Toxic stimulants marketed as “bath salts” are sold in small packages at head shops, convenience store and gas stations under names such as “Ivory Wave”, “Purple Dove,” or “Zoom,” among others. They’ve gained in popularity with high-school and college-aged users and are considered by federal authorities an “emerging drug of concern” in western Colorado, said Jim Schrant, head of DEA’s Grand Junction office.
“Fortunately, we have not had the volume of bath-salt related overdoses and emergency room visits as other parts of the country have had, but there have been instances,” Schrant said.
While Marc Breen, an emergency room doctor at Community Hospital, said he has yet to see a bath salt-related case in the hospital’s emergency room, the drugs are on radars statewide. The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center received one phone call on its emergency hotline in 2010 seeking information about bath salts. Last year, they took 45 and have fielded 10 through last week covering 2012, according to spokeswoman Cindy Deutsch.
“Most of these calls are from doctors and emergency rooms wanting to know how to treat it, or from friends of people who took them,” Deutsch said.
Tim Leon, safety coordinator for School District 51, said while he’s seen no bath-salt related disciplinary issues cross his desk, they’re preparing for just that.
Custodians districtwide were briefed last week on how to spot the drug and its effects by an officer with the Western Colorado Drug Task Force, while administrators at all facilities will receive similar training before the fall semester, Leon said.
“It’s probably just a matter of time before we do see it,” he said.
In the months after the DEA’s action, debate rose as to whether Mesa County prosecutors could move forward with bath-salts possession or sale criminal cases.
Under the DEA’s emergency order from October, possession or sale of the three main stimulants in toxic bath salts — mephedrone, MDPV and methylone — became illegal and schedule 1 controlled substances.
In response, bath salts were turning up with tweaked chemical structures and compound substitutes not addressed in the order, Schrant said.
Under Colorado law, the sale of many controlled substance analogs — a substance with a chemical structure similar to an illegal substance — have long been banned. However, just a few paragraphs lower in the same statute, language exempts substances “not intended for human consumption.”
Toxic bath salts were showing up labeled or with stickers slapped on them, declaring as much.
“We never really felt comfortable going forward with a state prosecution,” Rubinstein said.
The law signed by Hickenlooper is designed to close the loophole, setting simple possession as a Class 1 misdemeanor and sale as a Class 3 felony. In addition to criminal penalties, persons or entities can be fined between $10,000 and $500,000, for deceptive trade practices.
Alpha-PVP, a bath-salt compound that was detected in the autopsy of 19-year-old Daniel Richards of Grand Junction, appears to be banned under Colorado’s new law.
Chief Deputy Coroner Kim Hollingshead said investigators believe Richards was under the influence of the drug and was acting violently on April 10, when he was strangled by others who tried to subdue him. Richards’ case, believed to be western Colorado’s first death involving bath salts, also marked the first time any bath-salt related compound turned up in a Mesa County coroner’s toxicology report, Hollingshead said.
While Richards’ death remains under investigation, Rubinstein said bath salts are turning up in other aspects of Mesa County’s criminal justice system.
“We saw a lot of it with people on probation or Community Corrections, but it never crossed their desk because it wasn’t a violation,” the prosecutor said.