Nashua Police Lt. David Bailey said the federal ban on selling synthetic drugs, including bath salts and synthetic marijuana that takes effect July 4 should come as no surprise to convenience store owners in the city.
Bath salts – not the "Calgon take me away" kind, but the "Florida man under the influence of bath salts tried to eat another man's face" kind – have surfaced in Nashua, according to Lt. Michael Moushegian.
"I can't tell you people have been eating people's faces off here, but concerning situations that arise due to people being impaired by these bath salts, we've seen that," Moushegian said. "As of July 4, they will officially be banned substances."
Although police clarified that it has since been determined that the Florida man charged in that face-eating incident was not under the influence of bath salts, Bailey said bath salts are still dangerous.
They are one of several chemical substances known as "designer drugs" that have been readily available in the city, sold at mostly small independent stores. When ingested, the physical effects mimic stimulant drugs, and can include paranoia and hallucinations.
Another readily available item, known as synthetic marijuana, is usually sold as some sort of plant-based material, like potpourri, laced with a chemical that mimmicks the effects of smoking marijuana when used.
Last year the DEA sought an emergency ban on these chemicals, which went into effect pending the passage of federal legislation – HR 1254: The Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011.
It is set to be signed into law on July 4, Bailey said.
"My understanding is that law will ban all synthetic marijuana and any chemical compound that makes up bath salts," Bailey said.
Nashua Police have been making the rounds, informing store owners that these substances, sometimes marketed as herbal incense, lady bug attractant, or glass cleaner, actually have only one function: to create a chemical high in the user.
"About the same time we were going around to some of the convenience stores in the downtown, we heard from members of one of our city Neighborhood Watch groups, who had also heard about these products being sold," Bailey said.
For the most part it has been mom-and-pop type stores being targeted by independent distributors, asking them to sell the products, Bailey said.
One product, called "Amped," is marketed as a "lady bug attractant." It is a form of bath salts, Bailey said. Another, Eight Ballz Ultra Premium Glass Cleaner, is sold in a glass vial.
"When we found it at a local store, it was a half-gram of white powder inside of a glass vial. How you clean glass with that, I don't know," Bailey said.
"We went to 55 stores, and out of those 55, we found 11 carrying bath salts, synthetic marijuana or both. We explained to the shop owners the dangers of overdosing on these substances and also that we didn't want shop owners to become the victim of robberies of these substances, which was happening. So we asked all 11 to voluntarily stop selling the products, and all have said they would comply," Bailey said.
Bailey said another area of concern was coming from the Northern New England Poison Center, which saw a "dramatic uptick' in the number of cases of poisoning from bath salts in New Hampshire between February and May of this year.
He noted that people don't generally call poison centers when they experience an overdose, so a spike in hotline calls is a pretty good indicator that even more people were seeking help in emergency rooms than were being tracked statistically by the poison control center.
"If they are showing a spike at NNEPC, and we were personally seeing more problems here at the police department, it's pretty certain that this was becoming a problem all around the state," Bailey said.
Bailey said it was encouraging to encounter members of the neighborhood watch group, who were seeking information at a local store just as he was.
"In terms of public safety, the community was being vigilant and looking into a problem they had become aware of. Once they heard these products were being sold at a store in their community, they went down there to question the owner," Bailey said.
"You can't stick your head in the sand anymore. It's like a bar, if you overserve someone and they go out and get killed, you're held liable as the one who served them. Store owners need to know that these substances are not safe," Bailey said.