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Community looks for answers on bath salts

The misuse of the synthetic drug known as "bath salts" continues to plague upstate New York. A community forum on bath salts last week aimed to unite the people who deal with the effects of the drug, and come away with a plan to fight it.

If the turnout at the forum in Syracuse Friday is any indication, the misuse of the synthetic drug continues to be a major problem in central New York.  More than 300 people on the front lines in the fight against bath salts turned out.

Experts are hoping that working together, the community can develop some kind of action plan to fight misuse of the drug, which sometimes leads to violent, aggressive behavior.

Attendees were looking for answers from people like Upstate New York Poison Center Toxicologist Alexander Garrard.

"A lot of times physicians are calling us saying, 'we cannot control these patients.'  Even the patients are calling to say, 'you don't have enough drugs to sedate me,'" said Garrard. "That's really scary. So what we're doing at the Poison Control Center is professional and public education. So we're trying to do it from both sides.  Knowledge is power."

Prevention Network Executive Director Brad Finn says the fight against bath salts goes beyond those who abuse the drug, pointing to a recent story of a five-year-old, held at knife point in Syracuse by someone high on bath salts.

"If someone held you hostage with a knife to your throat, you would have harm done.  It wouldn't be physical harm, but psychological harm," Finn said. "So another piece I think we need as prevention  that we need to look at, is what's happening beyond the individual using, what's happening  with the family members, the children, the spouses. And how can we help and support them?  Because that's where we can break the cycle."

Onondaga County Health Commissioner Cynthia Morrow says the best thing that could come out of this community forum is getting everyone on the same page about bath salts and any other synthetic drug that comes around the corner.

"We need to work together to say no -- not in our community, not now, not ever.  No one should be making, selling, buying or using this stuff.  It's hurting us.  It's hurting this community," said Morrow.

There were 118 calls about bath salts all of last year to the Upstate Poison Control Center.  As of Friday, there have  already been 288 calls  this year in the 54-county region the center covers.

The poison center and other agencies are hoping a collective community response can limit the misuse of this synthetic drug and any others that come down the line.

More from WRVO's Ellen Abbott.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.