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Lawmaker criticizes inaction over banning crystal methamphetamine-type ‘bath salts’

CARSON CITY — An angry legislator blasted the state Board of Pharmacy on Tuesday for failing to move quickly to outlaw “bath salts,” or crystal methamphetamine-type synthetic drugs that are killing people around the country.

Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, said it has been nearly a year since the problem was discussed by the Legislature and still it is legal to buy the hallucination-causing drugs at some convenience stores and head shops.

The drugs carry names like plant food, K2, Mamba, Vanilla Sky, Ocean Burst and Ivory Wave.

She emphasized they are not traditional bath salts, or soaps or lotions that people put in their baths. Legislators have no intention of banning those items.

Mastroluca chairs the Legislature’s Committee on Health Care, which discussed synthetic drugs and other health issues during a meeting teleconferenced between Carson City and Las Vegas.

“This is unacceptable to me,” she said. “We shouldn’t wait a year to outlaw a drug that is killing people.”

Carolyn Cramer, the counsel to the Board of Pharmacy, defended her agency, saying a hearing will be conducted Thursday on a regulation to outlaw the synthetic drugs. Even if the board approves the regulation, it still must be approved by the Legislative Commission before synthetic drugs are banned, she said. The commission meets on Feb. 15.

Cramer said the board “followed the guidelines you set up,” meaning the state laws outlining procedures on adopting regulations. No requests had been made for an emergency regulation that would have outlawed the drug for 120 days, she said. Emergency regulations can be approved quickly, and in the meantime, an agency can draft and approve permanent regulations.

David Marlon, the owner of Solutions Recovery, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Southern Nevada, described just how prevalent these synthetic drugs have become.

“I get three to six calls nightly (on his business’ hot line) from people having psychotic reactions,” he told the committee. “They are out of their minds, screaming, crazy, having rapid heart beats.”

He said in a telephone interview that anyone can buy the synthetic drugs in packets for $20 to $30 at some convenience stores and smoke shops. Users generally snort or smoke the drug, which comes in a substance that looks like Comet cleanser. A packet may be good for 10 uses, although most people use it up in a day. Its effects start within a minute of using the drug, he said.

“This is a very bad drug,” Marlon said. “Some people feel if it was really that bad, then it would be illegal, but since it isn’t, it’s all right to use.”

Marlon said it isn’t just bad kids who are buying the drugs, but professional people who buy the so-called bath salts because they are legal.

According to several news articles, the synthetic drugs were first manufactured in 2009. About 30 states have banned at least some of the chemicals used to make them, and as many as 15 people have died from their use nationwide. Representatives of the Metropolitan Police Department testified that they responded to 30 incidents last year involving drug-laced bath salts and that no deaths had been reported in Clark County.

Bruce Gentner, director of the Nevada Narcotics Officers Association, said synthetic drugs have become the No. 1 issue for his officers.

“Numerous manufacturers are coming to our state because it is legal to produce and manufacture it here,” Gentner said.

Mastroluca said she was upset because bills to outlaw the drugs were discussed during the legislative session, and lawmakers were told the Board of Pharmacy could better handle the problem through regulations.

The bills to ban the substances were considered inadequate because they identified specific chemicals. A drug manufacturer could change a chemical slightly, however, and still create a legal drug that would cause hallucinations.

“If there is room on your soapbox, I would like to stand with you,” said state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City.

Hardy said he sponsored one of the bills to outlaw synthetic drugs that was shelved because the prevailing opinion was that the Board of Pharmacy could better handle the problem.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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