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      Bath Salts: A felony offense

      It's a trend law enforcement says has hit the U.P. hard in the last year--a synthetic designer drug sold under the guise of typical household bath salts.

      They're not a bath product at all, but a dangerous chemical stimulant that's sent dozens to the ER and is blamed for the deaths of at least two people in the U.P.

      Law enforcement has been pushing to get bath salts out of the U.P. since they first emerged more than a year ago. But it hasn't been easy. The drug is so new there wasn't even a law prohibiting the use or sale of bath salts until August 1.

      Get caught selling or using bath salts today and you might find yourself facing a felony charge, possibly even behind bars. It's no longer legal for local stores to sell the products on their shelves, but bath salts are still out there.

      "If I wanted to, I could go hang out with the wrong people, and I'm sure I could get some," said one former user who wished to remain anonymous.

      It's a dangerous substance, not only for the users, but for their neighbors, as well.

      "Being delusional, hallucinations, they see things that aren't there, mood and attitudes can change frequently and quickly when you're on bath salts," said Dect.. Lt. George Sailor with the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team. "Therefore, you're not really sure what their attitude or actions will be."

      Authorities report some users are now purchasing the drug online and getting it shipped to the U.P.

      "People think if they can buy it through the Internet and it's sold to them, it's, therefore, legal," said Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese. "If it's used as an illegal substance, that makes it a crime."

      Marquette authorities have intercepted at least a half dozen shipments, and they'll pursue those cases aggressively. But now that the law has caught up to bath salts like "White Rush," new products have hit the market.

      "You take the bath salts off the market, you can't buy them anymore; another drug comes along," said a user who wished to remain anonymous. "The 'Speed Freak' came along; everybody just moves into the Speed Freak."

      Prosecutors say it's really quite easy. The basement and garage chemists simply modify the formula and tweak the ingredients to end up with a very similar, but new, drug that's, once again, legal to sell on store shelves.

      The Marquette County prosecutor's office hopes to combat the problem with an analog statute.

      "The analog statute under Michigan law allows you to prosecute somebody for using a substance as a drug that has no legitimate, non-drug use," Wiese said. "If we can prove it's not a legitimate substance used as a a drug, we can prosecute under the analog statute."

      They say those cases can be difficult to prove, but unless and until the state legislature changes the laws, it's their most powerful weapon in controlling the growth of new and potentially lethal drugs.

      "We will pursue prosecution of these cases," Wiese said. "We need to get this thing out of our community."