The synthetic “bath salt” problem is growing, NPR reports. Unlike a drug like cocaine, which is made with a natural process, bath salts are made in a lab and constantly changing. The drug is designed specifically to skirt the law and test the bounds of new chemicals — with often deadly results. “Cocaine is cocaine [ ] all the time, and it’s always illegal,” says Jill Head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “But these products are continuously changing [ ] so what we see this week can be very different from what we’re going to see a month from now.”
Making matters worse, the compounds in the drugs aren’t necessarily illegal. Scientists at a DEA lab in Northern Virginia are doing something unusual: They’re making their own bath salts. To identify a compound fully, scientists need what is called standard material, or an authenticated drug with a known structure. Last week, Congress moved to ban more of the compounds the DEA’s lab has identified. Officials hope users will realize that if scientists in the nation’s drug lab can’t keep up with what drug manufacturers are making, users shouldn’t be so sure what they’re getting.