MONTPELIER -- Vermont is roughly doubling -- to about 170 -- the number of chemicals it is banning as ingredients in so-called designer drugs.
That word came Thursday as dozens of state and federal law enforcement officials gathered at the Statehouse to strategize in a war on drugs that has expanded to substances called bath salts and spice.
"Our mission is to reduce the temptation to profit by spreading poison," said Michael Drescher, an assistant U.S. attorney in Vermont who briefed dozens of law enforcement and health officials on the federal government's role in the effort.
Gov. Peter Shumlin two weeks ago signed an emergency state rule designed to bar the sale of 86 chemicals in head shops and convenience stores around the state.
Marketed as benign products -- some of the most popular of the items are sold as bath salts and potpourri -- and often market "not for human consumption," the products are designed to produce a high when smoked, snorted or injected, but to have a chemical makeup that keeps them off state and federal banned drug lists.
Sarah Vose, chief toxicologist with the state Health Department, said as states have enacted emergency regulations expanding their lists of banned substances, makers of the designer drugs often alter just one chemical in a mix of them to stay off the banned list.
She said a new emergency rule expected to be enacted this month will add 84 more chemicals to the list of those not allowed to be sold in Vermont, and will try to get ahead of the game by also banning analogs or derivatives -- drugs designed to get around the regulations.
She acknowledged the challenges police will face as they encounter unfamiliar banned substances on the street. Many of the products are mislabeled, leaving authorities to "try to regulate products when we don't know their active ingredients," she said.
Thursday's meeting came just days after authorities announced what they said was Vermont's first death from one of the designer drugs. Autopsy results released earlier this week attributed the June 23 death of Christopher Tsacoyeanes, 28, of Clarendon, to an overdose of three of the chemicals in the class sold as bath salts.
Shumlin, who also addressed the group, said it is now believed bath salts also were a "contributing factor" in a May crash on Interstate 89 in Bolton that killed 29-year-olds Jason Potvin and April Otis and their infant son of Williamstown.
Shumlin vowed the full support of his office as police around Vermont visit head shops and convenience stores where a wide range of the products have been sold.
Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier said he and his officers had visited two such shops in his city and neighboring Barre Town recently.
He said the owners were warned that they were responsible to ensure everything they had for sale was legal and that if illegal materials were found in the future, prosecutions would result.