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The Metrowest Daily News
By Jessica Trufant

On the street they’re called things like Cloud Nine and Bliss, but there’s a world of suffering and even death for the people who take the designer drugs commonly known as bath salts.

The substances are as addictive and dangerous as the illicit drugs they mimic, said Bill Phillips of New Beginnings awareness programs in Framingham. They can be snorted, smoked, injected or ingested orally.

According to Phillips, one bath salts user told him that the drug is similar to LSD or PCP, but more powerful.

“You hallucinate and go into a drift where you lose consciousness and go into a different atmosphere almost,” Phillips said. “It does horrendous things to you internally.”

At least three people in the Bangor, Maine, area have died as a result of using bath salts, Dr. Jonnathan Busko, an emergency room doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center, told the Bangor Daily News in December.

Several media outlets have reported that a man dubbed “Miami Zombie” may have been high on bath salts when he allegedly chewed off the face of a homeless man last Saturday. Rudy Eugene, 31, was shot and killed by police after refusing commands to stop the attack.

On Beacon Hill, lawmakers are reviewing a bill, passed by the Senate in February, to ban the possession, manufacturing and sale of bath salts in Massachusetts. The bill will label bath salts as a Class C substance, or a hallucinogen, if passed by the Judiciary Committee and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick.

The charge of possession of a Class C substance, first offense, in Massachusetts results in a one-year license suspension, a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in prison.

Those charged with possession with the intent to distribute Class C face up to 5 years in prison and a minimum $500 fine for the first offense, and a minimum sentence of 2 and a half years for each offense thereafter.

Thirty-eight states have outlawed the sale and possession of bath salts, said state Rep. George Ross, R-Attleboro, who sponsored the bill.

Bath salts, called substituted cathinones by the National Drug Intelligence Center, are fast gaining popularity. Bath salts contain several chemical compounds that are cheaper than drugs that are said to produce similar effects.

Today it’s legal in Massachusetts to possess bath salts, which are sold in convenience stores, smoke shops and online with no age requirements.

There are a number of street names for the drug, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, including Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky.

Ross said he hopes the bill will pass this summer.

“I constantly get phone calls from people waiting for it to pass. … It’s not a real complex issue. Ban bath salts. Simple,” he said.

The DEA last October issued an emergency one-year ban on the three chemical stimulants used in the salts – mephedrone, 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone and methylone. The DEA lists bath salts as Schedule I substances along with LSD and heroin.

The administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are studying whether those chemicals should be permanently controlled, according to a DEA press release.

The use of bath salts is still a growing concern for state lawmakers despite such efforts, because the drugs can be purchased through the Internet.

In one instance, a Franklin man facing multiple drug charges told police at the time of his arrest that he and his female passenger had taken bath salts.

Franklin Police arrested 20-year-old Miklos A. Sahin-Toth after pulling his Chrysler sedan over on April 19 for driving with a flat tire, Officer Paul Guarino wrote in the police report.

“Miklos appeared to be very nervous, his eyes were bloodshot and extremely dilated,” and he could not answer simple questions, Guarino wrote.

The passenger told police Sahin-Toth ordered chemicals online and would mix and ingest them, according to the report.

Bath salts are a new synthetic drug typically in white or brown powders “believed to contain psychoactive chemicals,” Detective Christopher Baker said in the report.

David Traub, spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office, said police are able to charge drivers who admit to consuming bath salts with driving under the influence of drugs.

It is not illegal to simply possess bath salts, though, so it is difficult to judge how widespread the problem is in Massachusetts.

While data on use is minimal, Jessica Pastore, spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney’s office, said officials are aware of the problem.

The Middlesex DA Gerald Leone has teamed with organizations, such as the Middlesex Partnership for Youth, to raise awareness, Pastore said.

The subject of abuse “is being raised in discussions at the schools as something that people should be aware of,’’ she said.

Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis talks about the substances in his program Face2Face, which he has presented to more than 22,000 students in the county. He recently brought Face2Face to Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School in Marlborough.

Evangelidis said adolescents often don’t realize how harmful substances like bath salts are because they are legal.

“There are drugs out there that sound very innocent, like bath salts, and you don’t know what’s in them. They’re very dangerous, no matter what they call them,” Evangelidis said. “People don’t understand because it sounds innocent, and you can walk into a store and buy it. It sends the absolutely wrong message that these drugs are all right.”

Evangelidis said the drug is causing a serious epidemic in Maine.

In 2011 alone, the Northern New England Poison Control Center reported 152 overdoses on bath salts in Maine. The state outlawed bath salts in September 2011, according to the New England State Police Information Network, but an average of three patients a day seek treatment in Maine for overdosing on bath salts.

Some stores have stopped selling bath salts, but Evangelidis said the bill is still critical to stop the sale of bath salts in Massachusetts.

“The reality is (stores) can and they will sell them if they can make a profit,” he said. “There is a need for legislation, because there is enough evidence to show that it is very dangerous and addictive.”