After police seized more than $100,000 worth of bath salts and other synthetic drugs from a Plaistow store, other local departments are on the lookout for the drugs in their communities.
Police responded to a medical call for a woman behaving erratically on Friday who later admitted to taking bath salts. Later that day, police and sheriff's deputies raided the Foods Plus grocery store at 5 Plaistow Road for selling the drugs and are continuing to investigate.
Bath salt abuse only recently spread to New Hampshire. The Plaistow raid was the first of its kind in Rockingham County, according to Sheriff Michael Downing, but the problem is here.
"It's a problem throughout the entire country," he said. "Obviously, it's being sold locally. I believe we're the first to find it in this area. We've taken a stand to enforce the law and try to get these off the street because they're very harmful."
Bath salts are synthetic stimulants found in a number of products, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The powder is sold in small foil or plastic packets and can be ingested by snorting, smoking, swallowing or injecting into veins. People who abuse bath salts report feeling delusions, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts along with experiencing nosebleeds, vomiting and a rapid heart rate that can cause heart attacks and strokes, according to the DEA.
"It's a growing problem," Downing said. "There's been incidences throughout the country where bath salts have been involved with bizarre crimes. It's relatively inexpensive and that's probably what the draw is."
A recent case in Florida is being blamed on bath salts. There, police shot and killed a naked man who chewed off the face of another man in broad daylight by a highway.
The DEA banned the sale of bath salts containing certain ingredients in an emergency order in October 2011, but manufacturers of many products have simply adjusted their chemical mixture to keep products on the shelves.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game," Downing said, "We're always trying to update the laws so we can protect the citizens."
Bath salts popular with teens
Younger people make up the majority of those using bath salts to get high, according to Valerie Morgan, prevention administrator with the New Hampshire Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.
"It's a problem across the state," she said. "We've gotten reports from every region, either directly from hospitals or from people in the community, that kids are using this. It's been around for over a year and kids are ending up in the emergency room with some serious medical issues."
She said the U.S. Senate approved a bill to ban the sale of all synthetic drugs and it should be signed into law by President Barack Obama next month.
"There are pretty stiff sentences," she said. "First-time offenders will receive up to 20 years in prison. I understand the store owner in Plaistow could be facing some serious jail time."
There have been no arrests in the Plaistow case, but charges could be filed if the state laboratory confirms the bath salts contain illegal chemicals, according to Deputy police Chief Kathleen Jones.
"We don't anticipate any arrests until we get results back, hopefully in a few weeks," she said. "The owners of the store are under investigation."
The owners of Food Plus did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
Jones said investigations of bath salts are unlike those for other drigs.
"You're not finding this on people in cars or in a covert way," she said. "You're finding it out in the open at stores. So, that's a little different, as far as the investigation goes."
Other departments aware of activity
Although the Plaistow case is the first for local police, bath salts are being sold locally, including in Salem, according to Deputy police Chief Sean Patten.
"There are several stores selling those items in Salem," he said. "It's currently under investigation, but no arrests yet. It's difficult to deal with right now. These things are being sold legally in stores, on shelves, which is obviously dangerous. I know the DEA and state and federal government, as well as local agencies, are all working together to put an end to it."
But police in some local towns haven't seen anyone using the drugs yet, including in Londonderry, according to Lt. Tim Jones.
"We are aware of it, but I haven't seen any arrests or officer contacts based on bath salts," he said. "There are no investigations that I'm aware of. We hear about it from national bulletins, but we haven't deal with it personally. Our officers certainly keep an eye out for it."
Pelham police Sgt. Mike Pickles said his department hasn't heard of any stores selling bath salts in town.
"At some point, I'm sure it will become an issue," he said. "Obviously, across the country, we're hearing about it. We have stores that we're keeping an eye on. But we have no investigations."
As the problem grows, bath salt abuse is something that every responsible person in local communities needs to be aware of, Morgan said.
"Business owners, parents and schools need to be giving the same message to young people," she said. "These are harmful and you could die. There will be consequences if we find out you are doing it."
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