Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Around Town: The bad news about bath salts

Around Town: The bad news about bath salts

For several months, Will Moffitt has been warning us about “bath salts.”

Bath salts is the innocuous name given to a group of designer drugs that resemble Epsom salts. The recipes for these drugs vary, but usually contain a synthetic benzoylethanamine or cathinone, which have effects similar to ecstasy and cocaine.

Moffitt is a former La Cañada Unified School District board member, past president of the LCF Educational Foundation and current chairman of the La Cañada Community Prevention Council.

From October 22 to 26, Moffitt and the Community Prevention Council will conduct Red Ribbon Week, an annual alcohol, tobacco, drug and violence prevention awareness campaign. The timing is perfect. 

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've seen the news reports concerning 52-year-old La Cañada businessman Brian C. Mulligan. A few months ago, Mulligan filed a $50-million claim against the city of Los Angeles alleging that in May, he was imprisoned in a motel room by the Los Angeles Police Department and then brutally beaten. The photo of Mulligan's battered face went viral.

The police report mentioned that Mulligan had been using White Lightning, a type of bath salts. Mulligan's lawyers vehemently denied the allegation. Last week, an audio tape emerged in which Mulligan (if it was Mulligan) called the Glendale police to say that a helicopter was following him, and admitted using bath salts at least 20 times.

The tape story was reported everywhere. L.A. Times. CBS.Huffington Post. The Valley Sun.

The legal status of designer drugs constantly varies. As new synthetics are designed, state legislatures try to pass laws that criminalize their use. Extreme cases and media publicity drive the process. Until a new law is passed, the new designer drug is probably legal, or at least there's a defense on that basis. When a state cracks down on one drug, the vendors vary the formula slightly and invent another drug.

Cat and mouse.

Last May, the use of bath salts was not illegal in California. By July, the president signed a federal law banning some forms of bath salts. Three weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that criminalizes the use of synthetic drugs such as bath salts. The new crime will be a low-grade misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. The law takes effect on Jan. 1.

The L.A. Times recently reported that the danger of bath salts is not well known (“Bath salts dangers underscored,” Oct. 17). For months, the media has reported cases of unexpected side effects in otherwise normal people that result in grisly assaults, such as chewing off the face of a homeless man, strangling an 80-year-old neighbor and slashing one's own throat.

Given the thousands of people who have used bath salts, it is obvious that not everyone has a bizarre psychotic reaction. That's why the ad horrendum argument (“you'll go nuts”) is ineffective. Not everyone who uses designer drugs goes crazy. It's like Russian roulette. Sometimes, there's a bullet in the chamber. Sometimes not. In the user's mind, that risk is balanced against the perceived legal advantage of getting high on a drug that is not yet illegal.

Bottom line: If you get sick, see a doctor. If you get arrested, see a lawyer. And if you are a concerned parent, see Will Moffitt.

Despite the recent news coverage, the sky is not falling. La Cañada is a pretty safe community. So, why is Will Moffitt spreading the word on designer drugs?

Because he cares.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

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