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Photo of Matt M. McClenahen

Drugs: Bath Salts Remain a Problem in Pennsylvania Despite Ban

On Behalf of | Jun 19, 2013 | Drugs

Bath salts have been an illegal drug in Pennsylvania since August, 2011. Possession of bath salts is an ungraded misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine, while the sale or possession with intent to deliver bath salts is an ungraded felony punishable by up to five years in state prison and a $15,000 fine. But banning a drug does not eliminate demand, and where there is a demand, there will usually be a supply.

Bath salts are made from synthetic cathinones, which are chemically similar to cathinone, a naturally occurring chemical found in the khat plant. Chewing khat leaves is popular on the Horn of Africa, similar to the practice of chewing coca leaves in South America. Both khat and coca laves are fairly harmless when merely chewed in their natural form. It is the concentrated forms of the active ingredients of these plants, which are dangerous. Just as coca leaves become a dangerous and powerful drug when refined into powder cocaine, so too are synthetic cathonones far more powerful than naturally occurring khat.

Bath salts create effects similar to cocaine and meth, but from my own anecdotal observations as a criminal defense attorney, bath salts seem to be even worse than these two drugs, and that is certainly saying something. As a criminal defense lawyer, I have dealt with users and abusers of just about every drug available in Central Pennsylvania. I would have to say that bath salts have had a greater deleterious effect on users than any other drug I have dealt with. The paranoia brought on by the drug itself, coupled with days of sleep deprivation, not only causes people to become violent, but one simply cannot rationalize with users, even after they have come down from the drug. They seem to be in a state mimicking that of schizophrenia, paranoid subtype. As is the case with many illegal drugs, people with pre-existing psychiatric problems are far more likely to use bath salts than members of the general population. Snorting bath salts is like throwing gasoline on a fire for such people.

The recent actions of a Centre County man provide a case in point for the effects of bath salts, but paranoid delusions and violent behavior attributed to this drug are anything but an isolated incident. Justin Hinds is accused of brutally beating his girlfriend on numerous occasions between November 2012, and June of this year, while under the influence of bath salts. Despite the ongoing abuse, Hinds’ girlfriend opted to stay with him despite several opportunities to escape. She had even made contact with police and EMTS at one point, but then attributed her injuries to an accident. By June 8, 2013, the victim finally had enough and managed to get away. She waited several days before contacting the police, but she still had visible injuries.

Invariably, people will question why the victim voluntarily stayed with Hinds when she had several opportunities to escape, and why she waited several days to contact the police. “No one I know would have stayed with him!” people say to their friends. The simple answer is that the type of people who become paramours of bath salt users, often have their own issues with drug and alcohol abuse, coupled with psychiatric problems. These factors make it far more likely for a victim of bath salts-fueled abuse to avoid contacting authorities, thus allowing the abuse to continue.

Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, who has extensive experience in drug and drug-related cases.


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