State Wages War On Designer Drugs
08/03/12 7:34AM By John Dillon  Download MP3
Governor Peter Shumlin and law enforcement officials say Vermont is in a race to ban designer drugs and their chemical cousins before they kill more people.
Police say a Clarendon man died last month from an overdose of the drugs. And the governor disclosed on Thursday that this new class of substances - sometimes called "spice" or "bath salts" - played a role in a triple fatal car crash on Interstate 89 in May.
The governor addressed about two-dozen federal and state law enforcement officers assembled at the Statehouse. They were there to learn about designer drugs now being sold in heads shops and convenience stores around the state.
"What I can tell you is that we're losing good, decent Vermonters to an epidemic where these poisons and chemicals are sold in fancy packages in stores in Vermont by greedy people who don't care about the deaths, the tragedies that ensue, when this junk is consumed," Shumlin said.
Shumlin said toxicology tests have confirmed that the drugs were involved in a car accident that claimed three lives in May.
In that accident, driver Jason Potvin lost control of his vehicle, drove across the median and collided with a pick-up truck. The crash killed Potvin, his girlfriend April Otis and their infant son Hunter.
"Certainly we can conclude that bath salts were a contributing factor to that tragedy," Shumlin said. "And that investigation continues."
Police say drug manufacturers try to stay one step ahead of the law by slightly altering the chemical compounds of banned substances.
Last month, the Shumlin Administration added 86 chemicals to the list of substances that are illegal to sell, posses or use. The administration is now working on a new rule that would also ban chemical analogs and derivatives. Health Commissioner Harry Chen says education is also important to let young people know the drugs are dangerous.
"This is not better living through chemistry," he said. "These are powerful substances that have profound effects on the body and the mind, including hallucinations, paranoia, suicidal behavior and death as we've seen."
Springfield Police Chief Douglas Johnston said he's seen the material sold at a head shop and at a convenience store in his town.
"I mean honestly, when you come in, you can see it. We know it's there. It's just a matter of identifying what it is," he said. "It will say, ‘not for human consumption' on it. And there's no ingredients requirement. So you don't even know what's in it. Some of the stuff is not even labeled. It's just clear bottles that they're keeping it in."
Barre City Police Chief Tim Bombardier has emerged an expert on the issue because the drugs were sold in local head shops. He told the audience that the drugs are sold under names such as Strawberry, Mango, Berry Bubble, Hammerhead and Ultimate Dragon.
"I'm thoroughly convinced that the folks in the head shop - other that they know there's a high profit margin on this stuff - that the people selling it and the people buying it have no idea what they have," he said.
Bombardier says the owners have produced lab reports listing the ingredients, but sometimes the lab reports have been falsified. He said the owners have been warned that if illegal materials are found in the future, prosecutions will follow.
Health Department web site on synthetic drugs: