The designer drug known as bath salts is now against the law in Pennsylvania just like heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
But an Action 16 investigation has found that when convicted criminals take mandated drug tests, in most cases they are not tested for bath salts.
Probation officials in many counties except Lackawanna said the cost of testing is too high, and the use to bath salts has fallen too low, to justify the expense.
About 500 parolees in Luzerne County undergo regular drug testing.
The screenings for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription narcotics and other drugs costs a little more than four dollars.
If Luzerne County added bath salts to the mix, tests would costs almost $50, meaning the county’s probation department would have to find another $50,000 in its budget.
“We just could not afford it,” said Mike Vecchio, the head of Luzerne County’s Probation Deppartment. “Typically, easily said, Luzerne County could not afford to do that testing.”
Vecchio is not comfortable admitting his county does not test for bath salts in standard screenings, not in a county that was gripped by a bath salts crisis this winter.
In West Pittston, police said, a couple snorted bath salts then hallucinated, and stabbed at faces popping out of walls
That same month in Wilkes-Barre police said two women high on bath salts weaved all over the road with children in their car.
Area hospital emergency rooms filled with those having bad reactions to the drug, but that was when bath salts were legal.
“We’ve turned the corner.” said Vecchio. “I don’t believe we’re going to see it resurge back. That’s my perception.”
Bath salts may not be common as street drugs anymore, but some experts said they remain a threat. People can still buy bath salts on the internet. And what happened to all that white powder when stores were forced to pull bath salts off the shelves?
“We have received intelligence reports that certain people, when it was legal to possess, they went out and bought cases of it,” said Lackawanna County District Attorney Andrew Jarbola.
He supports bath salts testing, and said Lackawanna County negotiated a lower cost for screening the synthetic drug. Jarbola added the courts can make the person getting tested help pay drug screening costs.
“It would be assessed to that particular probationee as a cost of prosecution,” added Jarbola.
In Luzerne and other area counties, probation officers only perform costly bath salts tests if someone shows strange behavior, and does not test positive for other drugs.
Many working in criminal justice think bath salt testing costs will come down if Congress passes a nationwide ban on the drug.
Until then, many remain uneasy knowing that unlike heroin, cocaine, or marijuana, bath salts are not detected in most standard drug tests.