Contrary to efforts by some Kentucky counties, a Franklin County official is hesitant to call synthetic marijuana and bath salts a concern until he has more evidence.
While bath salts have been banned in the state, County Attorney Rick Sparks says he would not support adding similar laws locally until he finds evidence the current ban is flawed when it comes to enforcement.
Sparks says “the General Assembly spoke,” and he wants to work under the existing law to find if there are violations.
“I don’t know (if it is a public safety issue),” Sparks said. “I’m looking to get a measured response before we make our next move.”
While synthetic marijuana and baths salts have been lumped into the same threat because both are fabricated to produce a “legal high,” the two synthetic drugs should be placed in separate categories, Sparks says.
“They are casually wrapped into the same category because both are sold in stores; they are a low-hanging fruit, but they are not the same things.”
Synthetic marijuana is a plant-like material laced with chemicals that produce the same high as natural marijuana, but bath salts have been linked to being as addictive as methamphetamine.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland has come across K2 and Spice, brands of synthetic marijuana, in the Franklin County Drug Court.
“It’s a problem with people who are in drug court who think if they use K2 (and) Spice it won’t show up during a drug test, but we are starting to test for it,” Cleveland said.
Drug Court Program Coordinator Robin Vick says some of those enrolled resort to these drugs when they’re “looking for a high, and they are trying to beat the system.”
“They use bath salts as an alternative for cocaine, so people who are looking for a replace ment drug will use bath salts because they think they can get away with it in their drug tests,” Vick said.
“And if marijuana was their drug of choice they are going to go for the synthetic marijuana to get the same high because they think it won’t show up in the drug tests.
“And for those who didn’t have cocaine or marijuana as a drug of choice they are using both to get a high and try to beat the system.”
Cleveland says though bath salts are not available in Kentucky, people are purchasing them out of state and bringing them in.
“I’ve heard it’s (bath salts) worse than weed or alcohol, and a lot of people are wanting to get on the sellers instead of the users,” Sparks said.
“But if the General Assembly needs to prohibit it, then that’s enough reason for me to believe it’s bad stuff,” he said.
Cleveland said some of the side effects of bath salts include vomiting blood, increased heart rate and nosebleeds.
“I don’t know why anyone would want to do it with the health problems they cause,” Cleveland said. “I guess people will try anything.”
Vick said when bath salts were banned, the courts tried to get “ahead of the game” with drug screens, but the synthetic drug producers make it difficult.
The battle to outright ban synthetic drugs has already been taken up with some Kentucky counties.
Most recently Anderson County Fiscal Court addressed the issue during a meeting, The Anderson News reported.
A mother told the court she took her son to Frankfort Regional Medical Center because he became ill with a heart rate over 120 after smoking a synthetic drug in his bedroom, the newspaper reported.
She told the court he had inhaled what is known as “potpourri,” which can be legally purchased at a gas station, the newspaper said.
The Anderson County magistrates voted unanimously to begin the process of outlawing the synthetic drugs, the newspaper reported.
However, Sparks said he needs more facts before the possibility of specifically banning synthetic drugs in Franklin County.
In the current fiscal situation, Sparks says it’s important to prioritize what issues top the list.
“In the grand scheme of things we have a Florida pill pipeline, heroin and many more dangerous things coming into this community,” Sparks said.
In his work as a prosecutor, Sparks says he has never seen a DUI charge on bath salts. He said some isolated cases could be threatening, but other abuses may need more attention.
“I can tell you on New Year’s Eve I’m going to be more worried about the drunks driving in a car next to me than I am about a guy being high on bath salts,” Sparks said.
“So when talking about the definition of abuse, any substance can be bad even if it is legal.”
Sparks’ next step with synthetic drugs will be to figure out what the “extent of public safety is.”
“I want to see a safe community, and I want to find out about this in the right way – from a public safety stand point, not from a political stand point,” he said.
“So I don’t know if it is a significant issue in Franklin County or to the public health, but I want to find out.”