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Published: Tuesday, 5/28/2013

New bath-salt mixes confound police

Chemicals affect brain, heart up with bath salt changes in targeting illegal use


COLUMBUS — Authorities trying to crack down on bath-salt abusers have to keep up with changes in compounds for the dangerous drugs.

“We’re kind of chasing a moving target,” said Dan Baker, assistant chief toxicologist at the Franklin County coroner’s office.

A 2011 state law made many bath-salts compounds illegal, and their use declined in Ohio. However, authorities tell The Columbus Dispatch that chemists are concocting bath salts with different compounds to try to bypass the law.

Bath salts are a combination of chemicals that can produce an effect similar to cocaine or amphetamines. They affect the brain and heart.

An epidemic in their use hit a high in June, 2011, when more than 140 people showed up in Ohio hospitals because of their effects, according to the Central Ohio Poison Center. Bath salts were relatively easy to obtain then.

Only five cases of bath-salts abuse have been reported this month in Ohio hospitals, poison center director Henry Spiller said.

Jan Gorniak, an officer of the Franklin County coroner, has a library of more than 800,000 chemicals that toxicologists can compare with the drug they’re trying to identify.

“It changes every day,” she said of bath-salt compounds. “One day you’re looking for this; the next day, there’s something new.

Ms. Gorniak says it’s a cat-and-mouse game with chemists who are trying to use compounds that can’t be detected or are not illegal yet.

In Montgomery County in the Dayton area, home of a coroner’s office and the Miami Valley Regional Crime lab, some 2,500 toxicology tests are performed each year for counties in the southern half of Ohio.

The lab started testing for bath salts early last year after getting calls from emergency room doctors and nurses who reported seeing abusers showing up frequently.

Chief toxicologist Laureen Marinetti said the lab tests for seven compounds commonly found in bath salts.

“Whether we’re going to keep seeing those or change to something else, who knows?” Ms. Marinetti said.

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