EDMONTON - When I first heard about the proposed ban on bath saltsabout two weeks ago, I was baffled. I was driving into the office, hen I flicked on CBC Radio halfwayinto an interview about all the dreadful social and medical damagedone by bath salts in the Maritimes and New England. I m not much of a fan of adding perfumy stuff to my bath water,but I couldn t for the life of me figure why a ban would benecessary. As soon as I parked, I whipped out my phone to Googlebath salts. |
That was the first I learned about a powerful newsynthetic street drug made with ingredients such asmethylenedioxpyrovalene (MDPV), mephedrone, methylone and highdoses of caffeine. Right now, bath salts are legal in Canada andrelatively cheap. They can be injected, smoked, snorted, even mixedinto food or drink. The initial effects include relaxation andeuphoria.
University of Alberta pharmacologist Alan Hudson says the chemicalsstimulate the brain s production of serotonin, adrenalin anddopamine. It s like a cross between amphetamines and Esctasy. You get anice buzz. The considerably less pleasant symptoms include paranoia,hallucinations, aggression, panic attacks, elevated heart rate,blood pressure and body temperature, and suicidal feelings. Because they ve never been tested, we just don t know how toxicthey are, Hudson says.
Bath salts hit the news late last month, initially implicated in agruesome Miami, Fla. assault in which Rudy Eugene attacked ahomeless man and savagely bit his face. Police shot and killed him.A subsequent autopsy found no evidence of bath salts in Eugene ssystem. Nonetheless, the tabloid grotesquerie of the attacktriggered a wave of stories across Canada about the danger of bathsalts. In response, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaqannounced plans to add MDPV to Canada s list of controlledsubstances.
Whether or not the Miami attack was linked to bath salts, they reclearly not good for anyone. The U.S. put a temporary ban on thesale of mephedrone, MDPV and methylone last year. Politicallyspeaking, it s tempting to follow suit. Still, before we open another front in our endless war on drugs,let s pause.
Edmonton police know of only two cases of bath saltoverdoses in the past six months. Local hospitals have seen noevidence of a problem. That s not to say we ll remain immune;bath salt abuse seems particularly high in the Maritimes, andthere s plenty of migration between Alberta and the East Coast. Perhaps the very reasons we ve not yet seen a big problem withbath salts here is because they remain legal.
Ban something and its value goes up. Make something notorious, itscachet increases. Make bath salts illegal, you drive prices up,giving organized crime syndicates greater incentive to produce andsell them. Call bath salts the next crack or the new meth, you give dealers invaluable publicity. And since bath salts can be made of a number of differentchemicals, it s hard to know what we re banning.
So far, theHarper government is only planning to ban MDPV only one possiblebath salt component. Britain banned another component, mephedrone,in 2010. But according to a study published last year in therespected medical journal, The Lancet, the ban had no impact ondrug use. Before the introduction of the legislation, users generallyobtained mephedrone via the Internet.
Now they buy it from streetdealers, on average at double the price, The Lancet concluded. We suspect that, in time, there are likely to be reductions inpurity, and increases in health harms. The U of A s Hudson says it s next to impossible for the legalsystem to keep up with inventive chemists who are constantly comingup with new legal highs. He says it makes no sense for Canada toban MDPV in particular.
I m unclear as to why they re focusing on this one particularchemical. I would think the government would place bans based onscientific evidence. The law of supply and demand is immutable. We cannot fightaddiction and substance abuse through prohibition alone. As long aspeople are so bored, so hopeless, so depressed, so stressed, somentally ill, so desperate for escape or for thrills, that theyseek solace through dangerous, consciousness-altering chemicals,dealers will always have buyers.
Banning things is far easier, of course, than tackling complexsocial ills. But until and unless we re willing to tackle the rootcauses of drug abuse and addiction, the war on drugs can never end. Twitter.com/Paulatics Facebook.com/EJPaulaSimons To read Paula s blog, go to edmontonjournal.com/Paulatics.
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