Driver High on Bath Salts Arrested for DUI

By Jeff Forester 07/11/11

"It's the law trying to keep up with the chemistry," explains Minnesota Sheriff Dave Bellows.

New DUI.
Photo via thewire

Minnesota's newest anti-drug law took effect on July 1st, and only a few days later peace officers used the law to arrest Michael Allen Andrist, 46 for DUI—even though he had tested negative for alcohol. Police stopped Andrist, who has ten previous DUI arrests to his credit, after getting a 911 call about a blue pickup driving 70 mph and swerving in and out of the ditch south of Minneapolis. When Dakota County deputies pulled over Andrist, he was "jittery and excited, yet his mental state was slow and confused," according to the police report. He was also barefoot, and police found a hypodermic needle in his pocket. They suspected, reasonably enough, that he was wasted, but a Breathalyzer recorded his alcohol level as zero. As far as DUI rules go, he was a model citizen.

But the cops suspected something else was going on. A field blood test showed that Andrist was under the influence of a stimulant. Dakota County Attorney James expects a later test at the hospital to confirm Andrist was under the influence of one of the new synthetic highs. Minnesota's new law, modeled after the Federal Analog Act, makes it illegal to make or sell drugs that are similar to known controlled substances. Before the law, "you could not prosecute somebody for being under the influence of a synthetic drug because they weren't illegal," Backstrom said. “Bath Salts” has become a catchall street term for a host of designer drugs that give users the same bump as cocaine, meth, or Ecstasy.  Andrist confessed that he used to take methamphetamines, but started shooting bath salts because they are cheaper and have the same effect, according to charges filed in Dakota County. Andrist faces three felony charges of first-degree driving while impaired.

As street chemists design alternate compounds to mimic the effects of illegal drugs, lawmakers and police struggle to adapt.  "It's the law trying to keep up with the chemistry," said Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows. So far, there have been only 25 cases of bath salts use, according to Minnesota's Poison Control System.  Sheriff Bellows noted that the Minnesota law does not stop the online sale of these drugs. "The bath salts and these types of derivatives are being openly marketed, so we're going to see more of it," said Bellows.

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.