Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force recently hosted an informational session at Lehighton Area High School entitled "The Latest Legal Drugs of Abuse."

The program was presented by Pyramid Health Group, Inc.

In his welcome remarks, high school Principal Tim Tkach, said that this very informative presentation was made to the faculty and staff of the middle school and high school.

"Already since that time, changes have been made to the presentation. Things are changing so rapidly," said Tkach.

Dustye Sheffer and Thomas Scranton of Pyramid Healthcare, Inc. presented the program – assisted by Rob Mikulski, assistant executive director of Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission, Inc.

"The only purpose of bath salts is for the consumer to get high," Sheffer explained.

Bath salts are commercially available products that previously included, as part of their chemical makeup, a legal stimulant called MDPV. With no known medical uses, their stimulant effect is reported to have four times the potency of Ritalin and Concerta.

Bath salts are white, odorless, fine powders – similar in appearance to baby powder or flour. Cost is $25 to $35 for a quarter of a gram.

With no FDA approval, bath salts are labeled, "Not for human consumption." They are also sold as plant food, insect repellent, laundry stain remover, jewelry cleaner, glass cleaner, and decorative sand.

According to U.S. Poison Control statistics, calls to poison control centers concerning bath salts totaled 303 in 2010. For 2011, calls have already totaled 5,625 through Oct. 31.

Bath salts can cause severe agitation lasting up to five days. The agitation may wax and wane over that time period. The euphoria and stimulation often last for hours – but the psychosis can last for hours, days, or longer.

Known side effects of bath salts include paranoia; agitation; increased blood pressure and heart rate; hallucinations; suicide and suicidal behaviors; intense cravings; over-stimulation; increased energy; delirium; insomnia; chest pain; heart attack; stroke; binge use; and death.

In Pennsylvania, legislators have banned only six synthetic amphetamines. On June 23, Gov. Tom Corbett signed the legislation that banned the sale of bath salts, synthetic marijuana, and other substances – effective Aug. 22.

However, new products were already on the shelves on Aug. 23.

Bath salts are sold under such commercial names as Busy Bee Potted Plant Food Concentrate, Go Fast, Gogaine, and Limited Edition Charley Sheene Bath Powder – just to name a few.

In addition to bath salts, other "legal" substances available include herbal incense – synthetic marijuana.

Labeled as an "herbal blend," herbal incense is marketed for home incense – again, "Not for human consumption." Prices range from $5 a gram up to $130 for seven grams. Price is determined by potency.

Last year, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that there were 374 emergency room admittances due to these substances. Recently, there was a confirmed death attributed to the use of herbal incense in McKeesport, Pa.

According to U.S. Poison Control statistics, calls to poison control centers about herbal incense totaled 2,915 in 2010. For 2011, calls have already totaled 5,741 through Oct. 31.

Known side effects of herbal incense include hallucinations; nausea and vomiting; increased blood pressure and heart rate; headaches; lethargy; paranoia; short-term memory loss; seizures; panic attacks; agitation; and death.

Herbal incense is sold under such commercial names as K2 Pineapple Express, K2 Pink, Happy Daze Herbal, and Iron Lung Potpourri – just to name a few.

Effective Aug. 1, the NCAA placed herbal incense compounds on its banned list of substances. The U.S. military has also banned its use.

While many of these substances are readily available at many convenience stores, they are illegal for those under 18. The average age group using herbal incense is 16 to 21.

Former school board member John Finnegan suggested, "Perhaps, we should look at this problem from a medical perspective – rather than from a legal one."

In combating the use of these "legal drugs," Sheffer, Scranton, Mikulski, and Tkach all agreed – "Education is the key."

Tkach followed up by saying, "Rather than looking at the supply side, it's time that we hit the demand side."

One interested community member suggested looking to boycott stores that carry these items. Tkach said that may be discussed at the next program, which is scheduled for tonight at 6:30 p.m. at LAHS. The task force will host a program with local police departments and municipalities to discuss the problem of drug and alcohol abuse – as well as the possibility of creating a community crime watch. All interested community members are invited and encouraged to attend and become involved.

"Working together, we will make a difference," said Tkach.

Pyramid Healthcare, Inc. was founded in July of 1999 and is based in Altoona, PA. It offers treatment and care to people who are dealing with alcohol and / or other drug addiction, mental health disorders, and adolescent behavioral problems. For additional information about Pyramid Healthcare, visit www.PyramidHealthcarePa.com.