Rochester, NY - 13WHAM News has uncovered new numbers that show a federal ban on synthetic drugs, including so-called "bath salts", is working dramatically.
The ban, passed last July, was designed to comprehensively stop the sale of designer drugs in smoke shops across the country. Such drugs have become a rapidly growing problem in western New York.
"The ban was really effective, particularly in New York and around the country, in getting these things out of the smoke shops, out of the convenience stores," said Dr. Timothy Wiegand, toxicologist with the University of Rochester Medical Center. "We've seen incredible dropoffs."
The numbers show that the dropoff is directly related to the timing of the federal ban in July.
13WHAM News combined the number of local calls to poison control about bath salts with the number of emergency room visits related to bath salts. Here are the totals, month-by-month, which show a surge in bath salts, followed by a steep decline after the ban:
March 2012: 23
April 2012: 30
May 2012: 42
June 2012: 81
July 2012: 104
August 2012: 29
September 2012: 19
October 2012: 3
"We certainly hoped the ban would have an impact, but this is beyond even what we might have expected," Dr. Wiegand said.
At Unity Health, outreach counselor Stephanie Rago has seen a similar decline in cases. She credits the federal ban, but also explained that local educational efforts have played a role. "The partners, the educators, are really doing their job to talk about the harm with these substances," she said. "With that, and with the recent ban, we're seeing a decrease in use."
Rago cautioned that designer drugs are not entirely eradicated. "If someone wants a certain kind of drug, they often know where to look to get it," Rago said. "This isn't over, and there's important work to be done."
So, where are all the designer drugs going, if they can't legally be sold in smoke shops anymore? Dr. Wiegand said that they're going underground, sold illegally in clubs and at concerts. Often, a person will try to buy Ecstasy or some other drug, and unwittingly get bath salts instead.
"That's potentially a big problem, and we're seeing it with some frequency," Dr. Wiegand said. "Through the dose that they've taken, they've massively overdosed. Most Ecstasy that's sold as Ecstasy in the state of New York is not Ecstasy."
Dr. Weigand explained that drug users come to have expectations about substances they're ingesting. "If it's something entirely different, they could be in trouble."
But, the experts would rather see designer drugs move away from stores where kids can get them easily. That's step one. They credit the federal ban and hope the new trend continues.