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Law Enforcement and Mental Health Professionals Brace For Bath Salts

April 24, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia law enforcement and mental-health professionals are bracing for an explosion of "bath salts" drug cases. Last year the state's poison control centers received more than 250 calls about people sick on the synthetic stimulants. The year before, they had gotten four such calls.

William Ihlenfeld, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District, says no one selling them thinks they'll be used as actual bath salts or water softeners. He says they can cause people who ingest them to have violent paranoid delusions, or even mutilate themselves.

"It causes people who use it to see things that aren't really there, and some of the names that you see on the packaging I believe are done in such a way to attract younger people, teenagers and young adults."

Social workers and substance-abuse counselors will end up addressing a lot of the crisis. Cathy Coontz, a counselor with the state Department of Health and Human Resources, will be teaching a workshop for them Wednesday at the annual conference of the National Association of Social Workers of West Virginia.

She says the chemicals were invented as a very strong stimulant, but the formula was diverted to make a highly-addictive drug.

"They originally were a recipe for a drug that could be prescribed, for narcolepsy, sleeping disorders and things like that. But the recipe did not work. The recipe got leaked out."

Last September the Drug Enforcement Administration used an emergency power to temporarily make the key ingredients illegal. Last week police used that legal change to raid a store in Clarksburg and another in Buckhannon, after what Ihlenfeld calls the largest investigation of its kind in the nation so far.

He says one disturbing aspect is the way the "bath salts" were so openly available.

"Clarksburg, for example, in the middle of a shopping plaza that has a supermarket, it has a hot dog shop, and it has a laundromat, and then it has a store that is selling these substances."

Ihlenfeld says much of the problem seems to be concentrated in the north central part of the state.

Coontz's workshop will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Civic Center in Charleston. More information is at www.naswwv.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV