Look behind the counter of your neighborhood gas station and you just might be surprised at what you see.
Past the soda machines and candy bars often sits what officials are calling dangerous drugs — legally bought and sold on a daily basis.
“People are looking for legal ways to get high,” state Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, said.
“They’re marketed as ‘not for human consumption.’ Absolutely nobody believes that’s the real purpose. It’s kind of one of those ‘not for human consumption’ wink and a nod kind of things that allows them to skirt the law. We address them the best we can.”
Georgia legislators recently passed a bill that will ban some of these synthetic drugs sold as bath salts starting Friday. It will be a Schedule I drug, which is illegal to sell or possess.
But Kevin Head, from the Multi Agency Narcotics Squad, said his unit has seen them in convenience stores around Hall County for some time.
“The word has gotten out, so they’re taking them off the shelves,” he said.
“But anything like that you see behind the counter at a convenience store, that’s not dedicated for human consumption — it’s suspect. It might not be illegal right this minute, but the chemical composition is something that could be very deadly.”
Products such as bath salts, K-2 Incense and Spice have been commercially sold as various products, but Neal said they are typically smoked.
“The effects of bath salts are exaggerated even above the effects of cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD and ecstasy,” he said.
“We don’t know what kind of long-range impact it will have. Ultimately, with it being sold in gas stations, you have teenagers who know it’s easy to buy and it’s not illegal so it must be OK. They’re going out and abusing it and having some serious consequences.”
State Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, proposed the legislation that will ban some of these drugs as of Friday.
He said bath salts were banned as part of a routine look at drug classifications.
But the synthetic drug market is far from squashed.
According to Neal, when legislators ban a product, they go after particular chemicals in the drug.
If manufacturers get rid of those chemicals, the product is no longer illegal.
“They have to be able to do it without using those same chemicals,” he said. “It’s not just a little bit of a restructure of a recipe. They’ve got to completely reformulate it to get those chemicals out.”
When K-2 and Spice were banned last year, Neal said manufacturers changed the formula and got it back on the shelves.
“There are some brilliant chemists out there who are up to no good,” he said.
“All they worry about is making a dollar and have no concern about the impact on peoples’ lives. They’re going to continue to modify and introduce new products, and we will continue to work to make Georgia as safe of a place as we can by addressing those products as they bring them out.”
But even as legislators and law enforcement wage a war on legal drugs, others are buying into them without any idea of the consequences.
“Problem is, no one knows what they are going to do to you other then that they are very dangerous,” Head said. “So nobody knows how much to use; they don’t know what the side effects will be. It’s just very dangerous.”
Neal, who also works as a campus director for a residential drug treatment program, said multiple individuals have been recently admitted with bath salt addictions.
“One of them is a 19-year-old from a good family,” he said. “Never involved in any illegal drugs but tried bath salts at a party because it was legal. It’s a growing problem; there’s no question about that.”