AUGUSTA — Kennebec County logged the state’s second-most poison control calls for exposure to “bath salts” through the first half of the year.

The synthetic drug’s quick rise to prominence has raised eyebrows from a range of officials: Police, doctors, Gov. Paul LePage and legislators, who passed emergency legislation in July that outlawed possessing or selling the drug.

There were 16 calls for exposure in Kennebec County between January and July, according to a Northern New England Poison Control Center report released to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta. Only Penobscot County had it worse, with 25 emergency calls out of 88 statewide during the period.

“The number is staggering when compared to the single call the center took last year from Maine,” LePage said in a weekly radio address Saturday.

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty called the county’s ranking surprising since the county usually falls into fifth or sixth place in by-county drug rankings because of its sparse population compared to southern Maine.

Under the July emergency law, simple trafficking is a misdemeanor with a fine. But possession while armed or sale to a juvenile is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Simple possession is punishable with a $350 fine, but penalties escalate with a third conviction — up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

LePage has said that still isn’t enough.

“When the Legislature convenes next month, it is my hope that we are able to strengthen the law even more,” he said in Saturday’s radio address.

Before the law, the drug — which usually is a crumbly, white to light-brown powder that’s dissolvable in water — was sold legally.

Packages are often designed to thwart legal action, according to a fact sheet from the Maine Office of Substance Abuse. Labels call the product “soothing bath salts,” with disclaimers saying the product is not for human consumption.

The drugs are usually snorted, but are also smoked or ingested.

A laundry list of side effects have been reported. In the short term, the drugs can cause increased heart rate, lack of appetite, fits and delusions and, more seriously, hallucinations, aggression, muscle damage, a sharp increase in body temperature and risk of kidney failure, the sheet said.

“The problem with bath salts is that it’s inconsistent,” Liberty said. “No one knows what they are taking. There’s no quality control.”

He said now there’s an underground market for the drug, like other illicit substances. Bath salts can be bought online and easily shipped into the area.

He said his office has handled four cases in the past six weeks, all over the county. Typically, Liberty said he sees the drug favored by those in their early 20s.

At least one man in Bangor has died soon after using the drug. In July, the Bangor Daily News reported Bangor police arrested Ralph E. Willis, 32, for disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and refusing to submit to arrest after he started a confrontation outside a funeral home.

After police said he was acting “delusional,” he was taken to a local hospital, where he died. Earlier, he admitted he was on bath salts, trying to quit.

In the same story, an Eastern Maine Medical Center emergency room doctor said he was seeing a bath salts overdose every week.

Doctors in Kennebec County have been seeing similar situations: In June, Waterville police found Zachary Morin, 20, in an alternative education school auditorium saying someone was chasing him with a gun.

Police said he didn’t know what he was doing or where he was. Later, he said he took bath salts.
Figures from MaineGeneral Medical Center and Inland Hospital in Waterville were not available by press time.

Michael Shepherd — 621-5662
[email protected]