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Bath salts rearing their head, but 'not a huge problem' in Gwinnett

LAWRENCEVILLE -- On June 14, his 21st birthday, Karl Laventure was tasered 14 times.

The Alpharetta man had no idea how he wound up at a driving range in Lilburn, where he snagged a golf club, stripped and ran through the woods half-clothed. Confronted by authorities, he sprinted toward one officer "effortlessly and like an athlete at the top of his game," according to a police report.

Undeterred by half a can of pepper spray, he was Tasered once, twice, six times.

"With every cycle of the Taser ... the subject seemed to develop an immunity or endurance to the Taser's effects," an officer wrote.

Laventure reportedly ranted incoherently about Tupac and Biggie Smalls, alternately telling police he would and wouldn't eat them. Finally detained, he was given a sedative and taken to the hospital.

Eventually the sedative wore off and he pounced. He was tasered eight more times, handcuffed again and given more medicine.

"They don't feel pain," Smith said.

Thus ended the Gwinnett County Police Department's first real encounter with bath salts.

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With bath salts, the war on drugs is more a constant battle to keep up.

The synthetic drug du jour -- marketed under names like "Ivory Wave," "Space Trips" and "Black Mamba" -- first started popping up a few years ago in Britain's club scene. Its prevalence has only grown, gaining notoriety in the public sector in May when a Miami man, at the time believed to be under its influence, ate away the face of a homeless victim.

Locally, Gwinnett County police have dealt with at least two significant bath salts incidents in recent weeks. The drugs -- snorted, smoked, eaten -- have been banned in 33 states. The problem, though, is in the chemistry.

"Basically, the manufacturers are constantly changing the chemicals in these compounds," said John Murphy, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Drug Enforcement Administration's Atlanta field office.

The variations on banned primary bath salt substances like mephedrone and the tongue-twisting metheylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) mean each new product isn't covered under federal or local laws until authorities follow suit.

Meanwhile, a growing number of users continue to experience the drugs' effects: an initial state of euphoria followed by a laundry list of nastiness.

"It's always a game of catchup," Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said.

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After ingesting bath salts, users get the perk of three or four hours of euphoria. The subsequent six to eight hours, however, can produce a hellish combination of symptoms, including, but not limited to, extreme paranoia, violent behavior, hyper-alertness, extreme agitation, tremors, seizures, psychosis and suicidal tendencies.

An inordinate number of cases have ended with the suspect naked, a product of high body temperature.

Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Hammond, believed to be on the drugs, was arrested in Norcross Tuesday after chasing down a police car. He reportedly had feces in his mouth.

Bath salts have been linked to multiple murders across the U.S.

"Anytime you put these chemical compounds in your body, you're basically playing Russian roulette," Murphy, the DEA spokesman, said. "You don't know what you're putting in your body. It's just some chemical cocktail that they're throwing together."

The DEA last year enacted its emergency scheduling powers, classifying three types of bath salts as illegal, Schedule-I narcotics. As mentioned, manufacturers are circumventing that effort.

Locally, Smith said the Gwinnett County Police Department, though it hasn't seen a lot of the drugs, has increased its enforcement efforts in recent weeks. Two plainclothes officers have been on the lookout, and officers are being informed about the signs and symptoms of bath salts users.

A recent class led by the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office had a good showing, Smith said. They're working on integrating new information into twice-annual in-service training sessions.

Thus far, the drugs are "not a huge problem" in Gwinnett.

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Though they're in the initial stages, Gwinnett police inspections at local gas stations, convenience stores and head shops have been unfruitful.

"We have not found anything that we know to be bath salt products on the shelves," Smith said.

The Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency has deputized local officers to seize any brand name known to be peddling bath salts, regardless of whether or not the particular variant is technically deemed illegal. If the drugs turn out not to be on the list, they're still forfeited to authorities, though no arrests are made, Smith said.

The problem with boots-to-the-ground enforcement is the ease of online procurement.

A quick Google search turns up a website offering not only wholesale quantities of the drug, but a state-by-state directory of which versions are legal where. The site is heavy on disclaimers.

The items available on the site, it says, "are not designed or intended for human consumption" and "are not suitable for burning, smoking, imbibing."

Strangely, though, it also makes the following statement: "The Buyer agrees that the Seller does NOT supply instructions of use of any product provided."

In 2009, there were no calls regarding bath salts to United States Poison Control Centers. About 300 popped up in 2010. In 2011, there were more than 6,000.

Murphy said the DEA's Atlanta field office -- which covers Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee and deals primarily with large trafficking cases -- has not dealt with any significant bath salts prosecutions. But the number of investigations is increasing.

"I think it's going to cross socioeconomic boundaries," Murphy said. "It's going to cross rural-urban (boundaries)."

Comments

notblind 1 year, 9 months ago

Start executing the people manufacturing the brain destroying cocktails and the problem would quickly disappear.

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BurritoJones 1 year, 9 months ago

Does crazy feel as good as I imagine?

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roaads1 1 year, 9 months ago

Start indicting manufacturers for sending it into our state. That will fix a lot of it.

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