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VERONA — U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy on Thursday promised an intensified effort to prosecute traffickers in synthetic drug bath salts, saying federal law provides for a wider range of enforcement.
“Make no mistake about it: If you are selling bath salts, we are watching you, and we are coming to get you,” said Heaphy, who serves the Western District of Virginia. “You may be arrested. You may be convicted. You may lose your business and go to federal prison.”
The prosecutor said the drug contributes to crime and serious public health issues, including organ failure and even death.
He said ingesting the synthetic compounds produces effects similar to those of cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and LSD.
Heaphy told reporters gathered at the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office that prosecution can happen under federal law if “analogue” substances marked for human use are chemically and pharmacologically similar to illegal substances.
An analogue substance is one with a chemical composition similar to an illegal drug that produces similar effects when ingested.
Heaphy said that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can immediately make analogue substances illegal under federal law, and that the cases can be prosecuted.
The prosecutor said additional DEA agents have been assigned to help with bath salts investigations in western Virginia.
The eye of the bath salts storm is in Augusta County.
Sheriff Randy Fisher estimates that between 30 percent and 40 percent of all property crime and theft in the county are directly tied to bath salts.
Emergency-room visits at Augusta Health and across the country have spiked the past couple of years due to bath salts.
In addition to prosecution, the other weapon that must be employed to quell the bath salts problem is prevention, Heaphy said.
He said bath salts must be “addressed as a public health issue” with robust prevention efforts.
“It is important for parents, teachers and concerned citizens to realize that these substances are extremely dangerous,” Heaphy said. “We must be vigilant in getting the word out in the schools, churches, community groups and at home that synthetic drugs, like bath salts, are poison, plain and simple.”
As an example, he pointed to a grassroots awareness effort in Augusta County that includes the SAW Coalition and churches such as Fishersville United Methodist Church.
After Thursday’s news conference, Fisher said he saw a correlation between the users of methamphetamines and bath salts.
He said that bath salts are easier to obtain, and that there are still a number of stores in the area selling them.
Heaphy said that many of the ingredients for meth are now more difficult to obtain, and that producing that drug involves risky cooking of the ingredients.
In addition to local sales, Fisher said bath salts are being brought in from outside the area.
A Craigsville woman recently pleaded guilty in federal court to bringing bath salts from Maryland into Augusta County and selling them.
Heaphy said an employee of a Charlottesville video store and two co-defendants sold bath salts behind the counter at that business.
They have pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell bath salts and will be sentenced in federal court later this summer.
Stuart reports for the News Virginian in Waynesboro.