A stroke of President Barack Obama's pen is all it will take now to send bath salts down the drain.
These bath salts are not the kind found in tubs, but instead hallucinogenic drugs that are said to cause bizarre and violent behavior in users. The drug is sold under such innocuous names as "Ivory Wave," "Vanilla Sky" and "Purple Haze."
State laws already ban the drug in Pennsylvania and several other states, but congressional action Tuesday would make it illegal nationwide and impose penalties of as much as 30 years in prison. The maximum penalty under Pennsylvania law is five years in prison and $15,000 in fines.
Following an earlier House vote, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday permanently banned the chemical ingredients used to make bath salts and similar synthetic drugs.
"These drugs are labeled and disguised as legitimate products to circumvent the law. They're easily purchased online, at gas stations, in shopping malls and in other novelty stores," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said during a floor speech Monday. "A number of people across the country have acted violently while under the influence of these drugs."
To make his case, Mr. Grassley reminded fellow senators of a widely publicized Florida case last month. Some Miami law officers speculated that the drug may have fueled Rudy Eugene when he gnawed off parts of the face of homeless victim Ronald Poppo. Police subsequently fatally shot Eugune. Toxicology results in that case have not yet been released.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency already used its emergency authority in October to temporarily ban the active ingredients in bath salts because of an imminent threat to public safety. The agency began enforcing the ban with a series of raids, including one in northern West Virginia that netted four arrests and seizure of 11 properties and $750,000. Officials in April said West Virginia has the nation's highest number of medical incidents involving bath salts.
Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Allentown, sponsored the House bill. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Mr. Grassley sponsored the Senate's.
Lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., helped negotiate the ban into a larger Food and Drug Administration package that passed Tuesday, 92-4.
The wider bill provides funding to the FDA, but lawmakers used it as a vehicle to address concerns about synthetic drugs while increasing inspections of offshore pharmaceutical plants.
Mr. Casey sponsored provisions in the bill that make it easier for companies to bring medical devices to market, reduce drug shortages, increases federal oversight of prescription drug abuse and promote development of treatments for rare childhood diseases.
The president is likely to sign the bill within a week.
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