By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that will expand the ban on the type of chemicals used to make the dangerous bath salts used by party-going young people.
The law comes after several high-profile deaths in New York City this summer involving the synthetic drugs, including the death of a 23-year-old man from the Rochester area.
The state Legislature in June passed a bill that adds new compounds used to make synthetic drugs to the state's banned substance list. Cuomo signed the measure Thursday.
Cuomo last year issued an executive order to ban the sale and possession of synthetic drugs under the state's public health law. Cuomo also added fines up to $500 and up to 15 days in jail for possession of the drugs. Civil penalties were up to $2,000 per violation.
"By closing a significant loophole and toughening penalties to curb the sale of these drugs, we can prevent more deaths and further tragedy in communities across New York," Cuomo said in a statement Friday.
Drug-abuse experts said the difficulty in cracking down on synthetic drugs is that the formulas keep changing. Last year, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued head shops for mislabeling the substances as a way to evade federal and state laws.
The new law classifies the compounds as Schedule I stimulant controlled substances and imposes criminal penalties on sale and possession of the substances. It also makes it a felony to sell the drugs to a minor or on school grounds.
Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, sponsored the legislation and said that the latest danger is that the bath salts are being relabeled as the party drug "Molly," a form of the drug Ecstasy.
"These so-called 'bath salts' are not the same as aromatic bath salts," Griffo said in a statement. "They contain a potentially lethal mix of synthetic drugs and serve no purpose other than to get the user high."
Bath salts are similar to methamphetamines and can stimulate the nervous system and the heart, which can lead to heart attacks, seizures or hallucinations.
There have been a number of recent cases of deaths associated with the drugs, including at concerts in New York City.
The Electric Zoo music festival on Randall's Island last month was canceled after two young people died from apparent drug overdoses, includes Jeffrey Russ, 23, of Greece, Monroe County.
Angela Sullivan, executive director of the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County, said the problem with synthetic drugs is that people have no idea what was put into the substances. The result can be fatal, she warned, and the state's attempts at a crackdown should be lauded.
"Anything that we can do to stop the flow of these synthetic drugs into our communities would be and is most appreciated," she said.