The sale of “designer drugs” in Frederick may be illegal in the next few months, thanks to new federal legislation and a possible city ordinance prohibiting the sale of bath salts and synthetic marijuana.
Federal legislation that goes into effect in Oct. 1 is designed to help authorities combat an ever-changing list of chemicals that keeps manufacturers one step ahead of the law, according to Capt.Tom Ledwell of the Frederick Police Department.
The federal law is part of a broader measure targeting many more chemical compounds than a law passed last year. Two bath salt chemicals, mephedrone and MDPV, were banned last October. Health and law-enforcement officials say the drugs lead to bizarre behavior and health problems.
Stemming the tide of such drugs will take a multifaceted effort that may also include a new local law, Ledwell said.
Frederick police have identified six businesses in the city that sell the designer drugs, four of them on Market Street, but suspect there are more. None of the businesses is currently selling anything illegal, according to Ledwell. The drugs are also available on the Internet.
“We are examining some other municipal ordinances already on the books, and whether it would be feasible to put into place in Frederick,” Ledwell said.
He does not know how long it will take the city to enact such a law. He said that the police department has been in discussions with the city attorney and the Frederick County state’s attorney for a few months.
Frederick Mayor Randy McClement (R) said he is supporting the effort to enact a city law to give police tools to address the “growing concern” of designer drugs.
“It amazes me that these drugs are sold with innocent-sounding names like ‘bath salts’ and are used for getting a speed-like rush, not a relaxing soak in the tub,” McClement said.
Joe Cohen, owner of Classic Cigars and British Goodies in Frederick, sells synthetic marijuana, known as “spice” or “potpourri,” but not bath salts. Most of his sales are in small quantities, he said.
Cohen declined comment on pending laws because nothing has changed yet.
“It’s all speculation at this point,” Cohen said. “When something changes, obviously, we will have to adjust. What I sell are legal products.”
Ledwell said that officers have noted “bizarre” behavior in some people suspected of crimes, and have linked some burglaries and thefts to designer drugs.
Officers are seeing behavior-related incidents, but it is a challenge for police to identify what drugs an individual is taking, Police Chief Kim Dine said.
“You would hope they know what they are putting in their bodies,” Dine said.
Synthetic marijuana is similar in construction to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active compound found in marijuana, but is much stronger than the real thing.
And although two compounds found in bath salts were banned last year, the newer compounds are even more dangerous, according to Marty Brown, the deputy director of behavioral health services at the Frederick County Health Department.
“There’s a lot of confusion about the bath salts and what they are,” Brown said. “The folks that have manufactured this chemical compound know they couldn’t get it out on the market unless they could label (it) as ‘not for human consumption.’”
The drugs, which are stimulants, are inconsistent in their effects. The most damaging effects are rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure and paranoia that can make the user suicidal, Brown said.
Other symptoms include teeth grinding, increased temperature and pupil dilation, headaches, kidney pain, ringing in the ears, dizziness, breathing problems and delusions. Most who use it like the euphoric effect it gives them, and some use it as an aphrodisiac, he said.
“I asked someone this morning if he had any experience with it, and his immediate response was this stuff was ‘no joke,’ and he’s used most illicit drugs in his lifetime,” Brown said.
The department runs drug-treatment programs, and sends counselors into schools and to community events to educate people about the dangers of the new drugs, he said. Most of those who use the drugs are between 18 and 25.
“One person we have in a program, a month or so after he smoked it, had the urge to bite someone’s face, and he couldn’t get that thought out of his mind,” Brown said.
There are no studies yet on the effects of long-term use, but users need to take more to get the same high the longer they use it, he said.
Bath salts can be ingested by smoking, or melting them on a spoon and injecting by needle, Brown said. About 3 to 5 milligrams will achieve the desired effect, but users will build a rapid tolerance and have to increase dosage to 5 to 20 milligrams.
The key to dealing with the drugs is to work with manufacturers of the basic compounds and keep them from being sold here, Brown said.
“I am hopeful that there will be more legislation around these drugs,” he said. “That would help us in our efforts to keep young people from doing this stuff. They have enough to worry about as it is.”