County supervisors plan to ask the state Legislature to pass stronger laws against the synthetic drug known as bath salts and seek funding for education, prevention and treatment programs.
The call for action was approved Monday by the county board’s Legislative and Research Committee. That sends the matter to the full Board of Supervisors when it meets later this month in Ballston Spa.
“Bath salts” is the popular terminology for a kind of drug that was almost unheard of two years ago but is growing in prominence. Some people say they resemble Epsom salts and similar bathing products in appearance.
“Although not widespread in Saratoga County, they do come in,” said committee Chairman Paul Sausville, R-Malta.
The compounds can cause hallucinations and erratic behavior in users.
The federal and state governments have found them difficult to regulate, because their chemical composition can be easily altered to avoid legal restrictions.
Saratoga Hospital’s emergency room has treated a handful of bath salt abuse cases this year, Sausville said, the first time the local hospital has seen such cases.
At least some of the local use is tied to the festive atmosphere around concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which draw thousands of young people. During the Phish concerts in July, one young woman fell from a high light pole while naked, and police later said she had used bath salts.
In August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Health Department issued new regulations targeting the shops that sell the compounds. At the time, Cuomo said visits to upstate emergency rooms for bath salt use totaled 191, up from 39 for all of 2011.
The regulations expanded the state’s list of prohibited drugs and chemicals to include phenethylamines, a common ingredient in bath salts whose effect on the abuser resembles that of cocaine or amphetamines. The state earlier this year banned the sale of synthetic marijuana and last year prohibited the sale of synthetic cathinones, another component of many bath salts.
However, the criminal penalties involved are only violations, carrying fines of up to $500 or 15 days in jail.
Federal law also bans the manufacture and sale of many of the same substances, though that doesn’t seem to have had much impact on the problem.