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U.S. sees spike in ‘Bath Salts’ drug shipments

UPS hub, Louisville, KY

The designer drugs that have been associated with disturbing, violent crimes across the nation in recent months have been intercepted in increasing quantity in international shipments by U.S. border agents.

“Bath Salts” is a family of synthetic drugs that have become fashionable in the last year or so and have has been linked to a slew of violent crimes across the U.S., from armed standoffs to brutal assaults.

Customs and Border Protection said its officers have seen a spike in the importation of the drugs in the last year. The agency said on July 6 that its officers working express consignment operations at the UPS hub in Louisville, KY, continue to intercept an increasing number of shipments of the drugs. Chicago CBP Laboratories and Scientific Services chemists, said the agency, have been working with officers to test samples and uncover emerging trends relating to these harmful and unpredictable synthetic substances.

“Bath salts,” said CBP, can contain the Schedule I controlled substances Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), Mephedrone, and Methylone; or they may contain one of the many synthetic cathinone derivatives related to the parent compound cathinone, a naturally occurring psychoactive drug found in khat. By adding different atoms or functional groups to the drug’s basic structure, results in the way the human body responds could range from weird to dangerous, said CBP. 

In the first eight months of fiscal year 2012, from October 2011 to May 2012, CBP said its officers at the UPS express consignment facility in Louisville intercepted 32 shipments of synthetic powders and tablets weighing approximately 70 pounds. During the same period in FY 2011, there were only 15 seizures weighing approximately 35 pounds. For the entire FY 2011, October 2010 – September 2011, CBP officers in Louisville made 28 seizures of “bath salts” weighing approximately 74 pounds.

Bath salts users experience a high similar to cocaine, methamphetamines or LSD, said the agency. Symptoms also include hallucinations, extreme paranoia, psychosis, tremors, seizures, high blood pressure, chest pains, bowel control loss, kidney failure, and extremely violent behavior.

“The chemical structures of these substances keep changing which is why they are called “designer drugs,” said Neele Shepard, Chicago CBP Lead LSS Chemist.

The drugs are ordered through the Internet and typically arrive from China manifested as “bath salts” or “plant food,” because they look like Epsom salts or the white powdery plant food that help make cut flowers last longer, said CBP. Street names for “bath salts” are Plant Food, Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Vanilla Sky, Zoom, and White Dove. They are sold secretly under the counter at gas stations, convenience stores and head shops in small foil packets or plastic baggies for $10-$75 per 50-milligram packet, it said.

“As CBP seizures of ‘bath salts’ are on the rise, I would like to warn consumers who think all products ordered on the Internet are legal and safe. That is not true,” said Steven Artino, Chicago CBP acting director of field operations. “What consumers don’t know is that these drugs are formulated in foreign countries by street chemists who are not regulated. Consumers who order ‘bath salts’ have no idea of what they are really ingesting from one dosage to the next. I want to congratulate the CBP officers and chemists who are working together on intercepting these highly irregular, unpredictable, and sometimes lethal substances.”