CLAREMONT — Flanked by police chiefs in Claremont City Hall, Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway said the state has finally given law enforcement the legal resources to end the scourge of “bath salt” use in the county.
“It’s the most disruptive drug in the county,” Hathaway said.
Hathaway and the police chiefs from Claremont, Newport, Sunapee, Grantham, Plainfield and several other communities announced a change in the drug schedule in New Hampshire that now makes the most common variant of “bath salts” illegal.
Alpha-PHP, a synthetic variant of the stimulant known as “bath salts,” has been rampant in Claremont, Newport, and other towns in Sullivan and lower Grafton counties for years, according to Hathaway. While an earlier version of the drug, Alpha-PVP, has already been banned, Alpha-PHP was not. The drug was considered a safe haven for users who wanted a high without the legal consequences, Hathaway said.
The problem, according to Hathaway, is the criminal, delusional, and too often violent behavior of the users.
He said police in Claremont and Newport deal with the drug and its effects on users, families, and the community at large, on a daily basis.
“We are not here because this is a small issue,” Hathaway said.
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase said police have watched for years as people using the drug have caused havoc. Chase said the drug is linked to domestic violence and assaults. Users also suffer from paranoia and delusions, making them potentially dangerous when they are encountered by police, he said.
“It’s very dangerous and we see so many social issues with it,” Chase said.
Hathaway said the drug has had a significant negative effect on families and the community given the criminal and violent behavior of the users. It has gained in popularity because there were no legal ramifications, he said.
“The people running down the center of your streets are a risk to themselves and others,” he said.
Users can present as violent and irrational, while at the same time exhibiting a boost in strength from the drug’s effects, according to Chase.
The drug is similar in effect to cocaine, methamphetamines, and MDMA, according to Hathaway. Up until now, there was nothing police could do but get people to the hospital when they were exhibiting negative health symptoms, or make an arrest after they committed a crime, Hathaway said.
New Hampshire State Police Lt. Michael Kokoski said the troopers in Troop C come across “bath salts” frequently, and there has been nothing they can do about it.
“Folks are fairly open about it,” he said.
Newport Police Chief James Burroughs said the new schedule is going to allow police to address the problem head-on.
“We’re very pleased this is now scheduled,” Burroughs said.
New Hampshire classified Alpha-PHP as a schedule 1 drug last week, following intense lobbying from Assistant Sullivan County Attorney Justin Hersh. Now, people can be charged with felonies for possession, sale, and possession with intent to sell, Hathaway said.
The Alpha-PHP variant of “bath salts” gained a foothold in Claremont, Newport, and the surrounding area as people started buying it on the internet and then distributing in their communities, Hathaway said. It had been seen as a legal alternative to hard drugs, Hathaway said.
“It’s another gift, in many respects, from China,” Hathaway said.
Sunapee Police Chief David Cahill said putting Alpha-PHP on the drug schedule will bring accountability to the users now that they can be arrested. Additionally, he said, it will discourage people from using it.
“It makes our job safer,” Cahill said.
People involved in criminal cases can now be prohibited by from using “bath salts” as part of bail orders, or probation and parole orders, Hathaway said.
Testing regimens can soon be put in place to check for the drug, he said. Hathaway hopes the news that the drug is now on the schedule will get people to reconsider using it, and get help for their addictions.