A recent action by the state to eliminate the sale of designer drugs such as spice or bath salts is the first step in what will likely be a long battle in eradicating the dangerous substances from our streets.
Users of the drugs can experience a variety of effects, including agitation, extreme nervousness, nausea, vomiting, racing heartbeat, tremors, seizures, hallucinations and violent behavior, according to a White House website. The effects vary greatly from user to user because the chemical compounds used to create the drugs can vary greatly. They are often marketed as “safe” herbal concoctions, which is misleading because they generally contain dried plant material that has been treated with a variety of chemical additives.
Long-term damage from the drugs is still somewhat unknown, but there have been some reports of severe psychosis, kidney damage and death, according to the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council.
The drugs have been very hard to regulate, as businesses have found a variety of loopholes to continue to sell them, despite efforts by lawmakers to shut them down. They are often sold with a label that states “Not for human consumption,” which allows them to sidestep some regulations, and are sold in gas stations, head shops or online.
The use of designer drugs has soared among younger people. A recent survey on drugabuse.gov notes that of the illicit drugs most used by high school seniors, designer drugs are second only to marijuana. In fact, the Yuma Sun sent a reporter out in 2011 to see how easy it was to purchase bath salts. He was back in the office within a half-hour, bath salts in hand, for just $15.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has taken steps to stop the manufacturing of the drugs, such as making it illegal to sell, buy or possess the five active chemicals most frequently used to make them. However, manufacturers continue to evade the DEA by substituting different chemicals. A simple change of a single molecule was enough to get past previous bans.
Now, however, a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer closes that loophole by making the chemical formulas themselves illegal, regardless of any alterations.
Yuma-area law enforcement agencies are working on a community-wide effort to enforce the new law, and will offer a day to allow business owners to dispose of the now-illegal drugs. They will also conduct retail compliance checks to make sure businesses are no longer selling the drugs.
The long-term impact of designer drugs remains to be seen, but it's clear that they are dangerous. We're glad to see the Arizona Legislature has taken a strong step to remove them from our communities.