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Federal laws being used to fight synthetic drugs

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by Tom Chillemi
This week’s story is the fifth and final part of the series.
Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Progress is being made in the battle against synthetic drug abuse, but the fight has only started in court to stop the open and legal sale of these dangerous drugs.

For many Bath Salt users, the legal victory will come too late.

“Bath Salts” is a term for synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana, “meth,” LSD and other illegal drugs.

“It makes me sick to see synthetic drugs in our communities,” said Virginia State Police Special Agent Eric Van Fossen, head of the Tri-Rivers Drug Task Force. “They are pure evil.”

Two stores that sold Bath Salts in Gloucester County were raided and shut down by the Task Force in April 2013. In August or September, five of the 14 persons arrested pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Norfolk to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of “analogues” of a controlled substance, according to court documents.

The rest have entered not guilty pleas and are awaiting trial in federal court on similar charges. Some are facing additional charges including maintaining a drug-involved premises and conspiracy to launder money, indicate court documents.

While these Bath Salt cases churn through federal court, there is at least one retail store in Middlesex County that is still openly selling synthetic drugs.

Federal law used
Prosecuting Bath Salts trafficking is tricky, because as soon as one chemical compound is made illegal, the suppliers change the chemistry slightly to skirt the law, said Van Fossen.

“It makes me sick to see synthetic drugs in our communities. They are pure evil.” —State Police Special Agent Eric Van Fossen

However, federal law makes illegal “analogue” chemical compounds that are almost the same as the illegal formula. In chemistry, an analogue is a compound with a molecular structure closely similar to that of another. There is no quality control for Bath Salt chemicals because the package is labeled “Not for human consumption.”

Virginia law is catching up, and has listed “pages” of illegal chemical compounds. One case is being prosecuted under state law in a neighboring jurisdiction. The outcome could determine other prosecutions under state law. “The state has made great strides to strengthen the law, and that has helped us, and will continue to help us,” said Van Fossen, a veteran of 13 years as a drug investigator.

“The worst drugs”
Van Fossen said he could not talk about local investigations or the federal prosecutions, other than to say the task force is “very familiar” with a store in Middlesex that is suspected of selling Bath Salts.

Synthetic drugs are “the worst drugs” seen in the 15-year career of drug investigator Major M.E. Sampson of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office. Sampson said that making Bath Salts illegal will make them harder to get and more expensive. Currently, about 80 varieties of synthetic drugs can be bought over the counter or online for about $35-$50.

Sampson said the dealers of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine “hate” Bath Salts because they are cheaper and easier to get than illegal drugs.

Attack on society
Some people see drugs as a weapon to tear apart society. That could be valid considering the increased need for police, rescue squad and hospital care for those who are so unconcerned about their health that they risk ingesting unknown toxic chemicals—because they are addicted. They will do anything to escape reality and their problems.

When they come down they feel worse and withdrawal leads to a constant conflict within the addict’s body. It’s a battle they can fight only until they are exhausted and give in to find “the cure” for what is eating at them. Relief is short, and the pain returns. Their cure is to do more drugs like “Amped,” which mimics “methamphetamine.” Users have been known to stay up several days and hallucinate snakes in trees and law enforcement officers following them. “We hear the same story all the time,” said Van Fossen.

“A dead spot”
The damaging effects of Bath Salts and synthetic drugs happen quickly, said Van Fossen. “In a very short time, their brains are not right, and they never will be right, even after they stop!”

Bath Salts users get such an intense high that they are hooked instantly, said one female user, who switched to Bath Salts when she was on probation for other drugs because she knew synthetic drugs would not show up on drug tests.

The father of a college student who used Bath Salts said tests showed his son had “a dead spot in his brain.” The student eventually was found unconscious. His parents made the decision to terminate his life support and he died in a Harrisonburg hospital.

Who knows how many more brains will be destroyed before Bath Salts are driven underground.

When they are harder to get, less damage will be done. Maybe.

For nearly one year Southside Sentinel reporter Tom Chillemi has followed the effects of synthetic drugs commonly known as “Bath Salts.”

Back to Part 1

posted 10.02.2013

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