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New drugs emerging in the SCV

Synthetic substances known as ‘spice’ and ‘bath salts’ are more dangerous than their nicknames imply

Posted: August 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.

These photos provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency show the drug known as "spice."

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Bath salts. Spice. The words sound innocuous — things you could find in almost any home in America. But those in the drug enforcement community — and drug users — know the deceptive terms can designate two dangerous new designer drugs that are increasingly found in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Within the last six months, we’ve just started seeing it in the north part of the county and the San Fernando Valley,” Detective Scott Schulze — who works with the narcotics division of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station — said of the drug known as bath salts, the more dangerous of the two.

“I wouldn’t call bath salts prevalent at this point, but it’s definitely emerging,” Schulze said.

The synthetic drugs, which officials said are becoming popular among “club kids,” are generally made of a complex series of chemical compounds. Spice looks like its namesake, but contains hallucinogens that can have varying effects when smoked. The effects of bath salts range from mild hallucinations to “complete psychosis,” according to Schulze.

“It’s been out, and people have been talking about it,” said Shirley Simson of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which she said funds most of the world’s research on drug abuse and addiction.

“We don’t have a lot of information on bath salts.”

Both drugs have been known to have lethal side effects.

“It’s become really serious because up until earlier this year, you could have bought (spice) in a store,” said Cary Quashen, owner of Action, a local drug-treatment facility.

Exactly what the drugs contain, and their full range of effects, are among the many unknown factors. And that’s part of what makes them dangerous, officials said.

Spice

Compared to bath salts, spice is much more available in the Santa Clarita Valley because, up until recently, teenagers and young adults could buy it in head shops, Quashen said.

A statewide spice ban was approved in October 2011, but some retailers continued to sell the product as incense, Quashen said. Sellers also used to be able to label the small bags of the drug as “not for human consumption” to get around the law.

Spice’s appearance is similar to dry herbs. But the harmful chemicals sprayed on it to induce a high can lead to panic attacks and other health risks.

Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, introduced a broad drug ban in February that included bath salts and most known synthetic cannabinoids such as spice, or K-2, as it’s also known.

In front of a group called People Against Spice Sales, Hueso shared the story of a family who almost lost their son after the teenager smoked spice and went into cardiac arrest.

The bill was killed in committee in April after the state’s Health and Safety Code was later amended to include a broader definition of the drugs.

About 50 percent of the teenagers he counsels who smoke marijuana are also smoking spice, Quashen said.

“Kids are saying, ‘My parents can’t test for that,’” Quashen said, adding it’s not part of the battery of drugs included in most over-the-counter drug-testing kits. However, clinics can test for the drug, he said.

Bath salts

Its white crystalline texture and epsom salt-like appearance are the reasons behind bath salts’ innocuous name.

But the designer drug is far from harmless.

“Bath salts,” “spice” and “novelty powders” are street names associated with synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids. Retailers sell the synthetic drugs in packets for $10 to $20.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” Quashen said, “We sure don’t see many people who are using (bath salts), but the few people that we’ve seen have had a bad experience.”

One federal official described the drugs called bath salts as having potent mixes of opiates and hallucinogens.

“They almost have a PCP-type stimulant effect,” said Sarah Pullen, a field agent with the Los Angeles office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“They can give a cocaine feeling, but also with a paranoia-type influence.”

Federal, local action

Enforcement was made possible only recently — President Barack Obama approved a congressional ban in July, approving an emergency scheduling of 24 chemical compounds that are considered different variations of bath salts.

“What the (emergency scheduling) does is make the chemical compounds illegal for up to a year,” Pullen said.

During this time, the Food and Drug Administration will conduct tests on the drugs and then redetermine a permanent classification, she said.

“We’ve known about them for about four to five years,” Pullen said of bath salts. “Here in the U.S., we started seeing them more prevalently a couple of years ago.”

Locally, prosecutors look at both bath salts and spice in the same light, according to Sandi Gibbons, director of communications for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

“Bath salts and synthetic marijuana, or spice, are both misdemeanors as defined by the Health and Safety Code,” Gibbons said.

“I don’t know that we’ve had any cases on the drugs at this point.”

psmith@the-signal.com

661-287-5526

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