CLAREMONT — A dozen local police chiefs and representatives of law enforcement agencies in and around Sullivan County gathered in City Hall Monday to announce the classification of Alpha-PHP “bath salts” as illegal drugs in New Hampshire. District Attorney Marc Hathaway said that bath salts have become more of a problem in Sullivan County than heroin.
“This problem started three or four years ago,” said Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase. “We were dealing with people that were agitated seeing people with bizarre behavior.” The behavior included physically overheating, family violence, delusions, extreme paranoia, and superior strength. Police said they are dealing with bath salts-driven behavior almost on a daily basis.
“As you can imagine when people are suffering from these various illnesses one of the first people they call is the police department. Up until recently we weren’t able to do anything about it,” said Chase. “They were unscheduled. We could bring people to the hospital for treatment but we had no law enforcement arm, we were limited in what we could do.”
“We see so many social issues in our county and in our region because of this,” said Chase.
Newport Police Chief Burroughs said people on probation and parole are also able to get around conditions of their release precluding drug use, since they could use bath salts without being in violation of release. “We’re going to be working hard to eradicate this and make our communities safer,” said Burroughs.
DA Hathaway said bath salts provided a “safe haven” for illegal drug users who wanted to skirt the law. “As a practical matter bath salts has become more disruptive in our community than heroin. It is a significant impact, and the erratic behavior caused by it oftentimes is criminal behavior, the domestic violence behavior oftentimes is criminal behavior, and the people running down the center of your streets are a risk to themselves and others.”
Hathaway said it’s not as much of a problem statewide. “It’s a problem that has up until recently been localized. We sought assistance of the federal authorities. ADA Hersh really has been responsible for pushing this narrative down in Concord.”
Previously, police and courts were restricted in what they could do about the bath salts because they weren’t illegal. The new classification of synthetic cathinones as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance will make it possible to arrest people for having them. While other forms of bath salts have been made illegal, chemists have stayed a step ahead of the law by tweaking the chemical composition. Hathaway said previous tests for bath salts of a different chemical composition, PVP, had been coming up as PHP.
“Bath salts” is an umbrella term for synthetic drugs that are sometimes marketed under other labels that indicate an innocuous substance, like “lens cleaner” or bath salts. The class being prohibited now is Alpha-PHP. As a Schedule 1 controlled drug it carries a penalty for possession of 3 ½ to 7 years and up to $25,000 in fines. A subsequent offense is 7 1/2 to 15 years, and for possession with intent to sell: 3?1/2 to 7 years max penalty $100,000 fine.
“The criminalization of Alpha-PHP will enable us in the criminal justice system to be able to respond to the disruptive behavior we’ve been seeing in our community,” said Hathaway. “The possession of bath salts of this iteration, PHP is a crime and we will address criminal behavior in an appropriate way. Addiction is a very difficult topic right now and we hope that one of the consequences is that people will look at their behavior, recognize there’s a new risk factor for them and voluntarily go and seek out counseling or treatment and change their behavior. That is the absolutely best response we can get. From those who don’t change their behavior and try to sell this stuff in the community or use it in the community, the criminal justice system will respond in the way we have traditionally done.”