The state House of Representatives on Monday voted unanimously to add the potent methamphetamine-like substance known as bath salts to the list of controlled substances.
The legislation, which would also add synthetic marijuana, salvia divanorum and a synthetic cocaine called 'blizzard" to the list, will now come before the state Senate.
If the Senate passes the bill, it would become law after being signed by Gov. Tom Corbett. The Senate convenes today, but as of early this morning, the bill was not listed on the calendar.
As reports of bizarre and aggressive behavior by bath salts users have mounted over recent months, lawmakers have introduced a number of bills that would ban the substances.
The legislation approved 195-0 Monday by the House was House Bill 365.
State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, cast one of those votes.
"There have been a couple of incidents in Carbon County that have caused me great concern," he said. "These chemicals create dangerous highs similar to already-banned substances, but a loophole exists in state drug laws, temporarily enabling these substances to to be sold legally."
The "bath salts" at the heart of the legislation contain 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, and mephedrone, which mimic the effect of drugs like "speed" and cocaine. They have no connection at all with skin softening products sold in the heath and beauty sections of retail stores.
They are sold in tattoo parlors, 'head shops" and some gas stations and truck stops in small jars – about $40 for a scant half-teaspoon of the white powder – labeled Tranquillity, Blue Silk, Ivory Wave and other languid names. Manufacturers have labeled them "bath salts" to skirt drug laws. The synthetic marijuana is sold as "incense" for the same reason.
The white powder makes blood pressure spike, increases heart rates and drives users to extreme paranoia and hallucinations. Among the many incidents in past weeks was one in Nesquehoning, where armed bath salts user John Eremus held police at bay for two hours.
State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Berks/Schuylkill, supported the bill.
"These are not the typical bath salts you can buy at the grocery store or the drugstore," he said. "Drug users have been misusing (these bath salts) as a way to get a cheap high and the results can be deadly. I am glad the House has moved to ban this substance and I urge the Senate to act quickly so this bill can get to the governor as soon as possible."
State Sen. David G. Argall, R-Schuylkill, said, "I'm pleased to see House Bill 365 move forward so quickly when the headlines continue to show the tragic story of so many abusing 'bath salts.'"
As the legislation moves through the General Assembly, local municipalities are working on their own to get the stuff off the shelves.
Knowles has asked businesses in his legislative district to pull bath salts.
"Local businesses do not need to wait for the government to ban this substance," he said. "I urge local stores to stop selling this product immediately. If any of my constituents know of a business which is selling bath salts, I urge them to call me so I can contact the business personally and ask them to stop selling them."
Heffley also urged people to steer clear of the substance.
"I am pleased we fast-tracked this important bill, which addresses a growing public safety issue," he said. "Until the state senate takes action on the bill, I would recommend that everyone stay away from these substances. I would also encourage local shops that may be carrying these products to voluntarily remove them from the shelves."