There is no doubt that we have seen frightening acts committed by people believed to have taken too heavy a dose of drugs of the bath salts variety. The term itself has nothing to do with actual bath salts, harmless packets of pleasure that you give at Christmastime to people whom you do not know very well. They generally re-gift the packet to someone they work with, and the packets remain inert and unopened in someone’s bathroom closet until the following December, when the whole cycle repeats itself.
These bath salts are knockoff designer drugs that attempt to mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamines. And since they are made with combinations of readily available products, the drugs have been, until recently, legal and available at your local head shop or smoke shop.
The other day our Syracuse Common Council affixed bayonets and attacked this new front in the war on drugs, making it illegal to sell bath salts anywhere in town. In the wake of the publicity given to a Munnsville woman who died after, it was reported, she ran around naked, tried to smother her child, successfully beat up her dog, and resisted arrest, local lawmakers felt pressured to do something.
Similar limp provisions are being cooked up in legislative labs around the country, and nationally the feds have followed with their own regulatory bans. Forums have been held and talk shows are dedicated to the theme while public health officials struggle to keep up with the evolving threat.
The Common Council outlawed the sale of bath salts even though one of their own, the eminently sensible Democrat Bob Dougherty (3rd District), in one of those unguarded moments that gives even the most cynical among us reason to believe in politicians, opined that it will do no good. With visions of face-eating zombies in our heads (although the accused had no bath salts in his system), we easily forget that law enforcement is no substitute for a public health strategy that deals with the still poorly understood causes of addiction.
What we have instead is a summertime spectacle, an outcry over bath salts episodes relatively few in number but gorgeously dramatic in detail. Bath salts abusers are typically long-term addicts who have hit upon a new variation in their search to alter their brain chemistry by any means necessary. They differ from other addicts and drug abusers in that they: a) live in the era of cell phone cameras and YouTube; b) sometimes take their clothes off; and c) are rumored to munch on human facial features.
What they do not do is represent a threat to public health and safety worthy of the attention they seem to be attracting.
Here are a few calm words from David DiSalvo, who writes for Forbes.com. According to DiSalvo, “The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011—up from just 304 the year before—and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012.”
If we care to do the math, we might note that, on an annual basis, that’s a nearly 50 percent drop in bath salts calls. To put this in perspective, the AAPCC also recently reported that this year we are on track for a nearly 700 percent increase in calls related to abuse of cinnamon. When I heard this news I went out and stocked up on cinnamon in anticipation of a public demand to ban the tasty brown powder that apparently has caused some children playing “the Cinnamon Challenge,” a form of hazing in which youngsters taunt their peers to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon in under a minute, to become ill.
Why then, is there such fascination with bath salts? Again, the sensible DiSalvo: “Thousands, perhaps millions, of people have used bath salts without becoming cannibals. But, of course, it’s the outlier cases that get the ink.”
I sincerely hope the Common Council does not ban cinnamon. If
Provisions in Armory Square is forced to stop serving that awesome
cinnamon raisin french toast, our downtown mornings will be immeasurably
impoverished. In the meantime, the Common Council would consider making
it illegal to take a baseball bat and smash the counters and all the
pipes and break the plate glass windows at the head shops selling bath
salts. The penalty? I suggest a $25 fine.
Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary appears weekly in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at