GLOVERSVILLE - The sale and distribution of chemicals used to cook the powerful synthetic stimulants known as "bath salts" already are banned, but city officials are raising awareness about the dangerous drugs and stand in solidarity with the state and federal government in combating the rise of a drug that has gained local and national notoriety.
At Tuesday's Common Council meeting, Mayor Dayton King, who last week called for a local law prohibiting the sale or use of bath salts in the city, came to an informal consensus with council members that the city should instead pass a resolution supporting state and federal efforts to quash abuse of the chemical compounds that authorities say can be deadly.
Kathryn Alling, 54, was found dead June 4, her naked body lying in plain sight along a dead-end road in Mayfield. Her husband, Brent, 42, was declared a "person of interest" in her death and was jailed the next day, when state police arrested him on a charge of driving while intoxicated.
As the investigation unfolded, officials said the couple's likely use of bath salts may have played a role in her death,
Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Prevention Council's ASAPP's Promise Project Co-Coordinator Jaime Rulison spoke to council members during the meeting, explaining that the designer drugs are in no way related to everyday Epsom salt products used for soaking.
Instead, the designer drugs are synthetic stimulants made by street chemists that are sold in powder form.
They often are packaged in small plastic or foil pouches and are known by brand names such as "purple wave"or "vanilla sky."
The effects are similar to cocaine, amphetamines and LSD, Rulison said. They can cause chest pains, panic attacks, seizures, suicidal thoughts that last for days, rapid heart rate that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, extreme paranoia, and more.
"Locally, we're probably seeing it more than we know," Rulison said. "It doesn't show up on basic toxicology scans."
Last fall, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued a nationwide temporary ban of some ingredients found in bath salts, and the House and Senate recently passed separate bills that would make their sale, along with the sale of synthetic marijuana, a federal crime.
Similar state legislation is also in the works.
The DEA ban made it illegal to possess or sell mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, and methylone or anything that contains the chemicals, which are key ingredients for cooking bath salts.
The ban was scheduled to be in effect for one year while the DEA works with the Department of Health and Human Services to study further control of the chemicals.
In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law banning the sale of bath salts last year. The state Department of Health issued an order banning the sale and distribution of the chemicals as well.
"That only has to do with distribution. It has nothing to do with possession, so I had been working with the mayor looking into prospects of a local law outlawing possession and or sale as a criminal act," said City Attorney Anthony Casale, who also contacted the New York Conference of Mayors for guidance. It informed him that the chemicals used in bath salts are included on a list of controlled substances now.
However, Rulison explained, there are two tricks used by these designer drugs' makers: package the drug in a pouch with a warning label that reads "not for human consumption," or slightly update the name of the chemical compound so that it isn't on the list of controlled substances.
"What's clear to me is that the status of the possession aspect still seems to be an area of gray," Casale said. "It's not a black and white issue here."
Bath salts are still being sold on the Internet, and, according to Rulison, there are local convenience stores and head shops that sell bath salts.
Rulison said she was told of three locations in the city where the substances are sold. However, on an informal check of these locations, she was unable to locate the products in the stores.
"I've heard that stores are selling it. Do I have any photographic proof? No. But the kids and adults are getting it," Rulison said.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, calls received by the U.S. Poison Control Centers in 2010 related to bath salts totaled 304. In 2011, that figure rose to 6,138 calls.
Nathan Littauer Hospital Chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. Todd Duthaler said there is no way of quantifying how many patients they've seen in the Emergency Room with symptoms related to bath salts.
"What people are going to come in looking like is wild and out of control," Duthaler said. "Sometimes we get the history that there's some sort of drug ingestion. Other times we don't. We don't have any specific statistics for it. There's nothing we can do to test for it now. There are no blood, urine or lab tests for these chemicals. You really have no idea unless someone comes in and says, 'We just did bath salts.'"
Duthaler said he doesn't believe the hospital has seen an increase in cases.
"The drugs are out there in the community, but we have not seen a dramatic increase in the number of people coming in overdosing on these chemicals," he said.
The treatment often involves giving the patients a sedative so they can basically sleep off the drug, he said.
City police Capt. John Sira said calls related to bath salts have become a daily occurrence.
"In the city of Gloversville, it's a frequent topic for calls for service," Sira said. "Much more so than other municipalities."
Sira said if someone is caught with the chemicals, which can be identified in minutes using field tests, the charges lodged are similar to if a suspect is caught with any other controlled substance.
In May 2011, the Common Council unanimously passed a law to prohibit the sale and possession of the drug salvia divinorum in the city.
"For this one, I think the best we can do right now is exactly what we're doing: raising awareness," 1st Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth, who pushed the salvia ban last year, said. "Anything the state and federal government does is going to preempt what we do. We're just chasing our tail. We could pass something in two weeks and two days after that, there's something with a different molecule they could use."
The important thing, she said, is that parents are aware of the drugs so that if their children "come home with 'purple wave' they know what it is."
King advocated having "a resolution that supports what the state and federal government are doing. And we show our support to continue this, even if it's symbolic," he said.
Rulison said the fact the city is addressing the drug is a "huge step in the right direction."
News editor Amanda Whistle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.