New state Department of Health regulations announced Tuesday would place heavy fines for retailers of synthetic drug products such as bath salts and potential jail time users for its users.
The regulations, approved by the Public Health and Health Planning Council, would allow an owner or an employee of a store selling synthetic drugs to be charged with possession of an illicit substance, a violation. Offenders will face fines up to $500 and potentially up to 15 days in jail.
However, at a synthetic drug workgroup meeting, there appeared to be some confusion on how the new rules would work on the local level.
Speaking at the meeting was Stephen A. Jennings, public information officer for Jefferson County Public Health, who earlier in the day had been on a conference call with other public health officials and representatives for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
With the absence of a law, everybody is trying to do something through their own outlets, and thats commendable, Jennings said. It does create confusion.
Anita K. Seefried-Brown, program director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council, said she was reserving judgement on the rules until she received more information from local law enforcement.
I dont know how itll play, she said.
David J. Paulsen, County Attorney, said he was reviewing the new regulations to see how it might affect legislation he was crafting at the county level to outlaw their sale.
He said he plans to have the local legislation ready in the next few weeks.
The new regulations come as reports of their use have increased dramatically.
Bath salts, products classified as both synthetic cathinones and synthetic amphetamines, are often compared to cocaine and methamphetamine. The products are sold online and in a couple of local stores under a variety of names and are labeled not for human consumption to avoid federal regulators.
A spokeswoman for Samaritan Medical Center told the Times in July that their hospital had seen as many as five cases per day of individuals reacting negatively to bath salt products. However, a representative of the hospital at Tuesdays workgroup meeting said that number had dropped in recent weeks.
The new Department of Health regulations expand on the number of chemicals banned, which would make it tougher for manufacturers of the product, who avoid regulation by rapidly changing ingredients.
Synthetic marijuana is created by spraying common herbs with chemically-created cannabinoids, which recreate the drugs effects. The product has been linked to hallucinations, paranoia and seizures.
The state said the new rules would allow local law enforcement to pursue perpetrators and refer them to local District Attorney offices for persecution.
New criminal penalties for users of the product will include a fine up to $500 and or up to 15 days in jail, and civil penalties will include a fine of up to $2,000 per violation.
In the release regarding the new rules, a hotline was also announced for individuals with information about sales of bath salts or synthetic drugs, which can be reached at 1-888-997-2587. A new website from the state about the dangers of synthetic drug products can be found at www.health.ny.gov/professionals/narcotic/index.htm