FRIDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- An influx of highly
hallucinogenic, potentially lethal but -- in most states -- fully
legal drugs sold as "bath salts" has law enforcement and drug abuse
experts very concerned.
According to Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center,
in the first month of 2011, there have already been 248 bath
salts-linked calls nationwide from at least 25 states, compared to
234 calls during the whole of 2010.
The $20 packets are available in corner stores, truck stops and
on the Internet, and marketed as bath salts or sometimes plant food
and come with the (often-ignored) disclaimer, "not for human
consumption." They're not subject to regulation even though they
contain various potent chemicals, including mephedrone, which is a
"It's a derivative that's very similar to amphetamines, and its side effects are largely the same side effects we see with amphetamines in large dose," said Jeffrey Baldwin, professor of pharmacy practice and pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, which seems not to have experienced this scourge -- at least not yet. "[Those side effects] would be increased heart rate and blood pressure, not sleeping, not eating and eventually becoming paranoid."
The "salts" come with gentle-sounding names like Ivory Wave and
Vanilla Sky and are typically snorted, smoked, injected and even
mixed with water as a beverage.
"If you take the very worst of some of the other drugs -- LSD and Ecstasy with their hallucinogenic-delusional type properties, PCP with extreme agitation, superhuman strength and combativeness, as well as the stimulant properties of cocaine and meth -- if you take all the worst of those and put them all together this is what you get. It's ugly," added Ryan, who recounted some harrowing stories.
"The psychosis is impressive," he said.
One man barricaded himself in an attic with a rifle, Ryan said,
vowing to "kill the monsters before they kill me," while another
user vowed to remove their own liver with a mechanical pencil.
The products have also been linked to suicides, not to mention
hospitalizations, and on Tuesday investigators confirmed the
presence of bath salt drugs in the blood of a man who killed a
sheriff's deputy in Tippah County, Miss.,
ABC News reported.
Once an addled user gets to the emergency room, they're not
controllable with normal sedatives such as valium, even in high
doses, Ryan noted.
And when doctors try to wean patients off stronger sedatives or
even antipsychotic medications, they just become uncontrollable
again. "The longest I heard was someone who was sedated for 12 days
and the psychosis came right back," Ryan said. "The huge concern is
the possibility that some of these effects could be permanent. We
don't know because we've never tested it on humans."
At least with older drugs, sedation works and the patient
returns to "normal," at least until they hit the streets again.
Also worrisome is the fact that while all of the products "have
the same basic chemical structure," small changes in the chemical
composition give you different side effects, which clinicians then
have to learn how to deal with.
Despite these trips -- which users readily admit are horrible --
the cravings are so intense they often go back to the drug.
Louisiana has already banned the products, via a decree from the
governor's office that recently made them a Schedule 1 substance,
putting them in the same class as heroin. Now law enforcement
officials in that state -- and Florida, which enacted a similar
decree -- can do more than just charge people with a misdemeanor
for using or selling the fake bath salts.
Federal regulation of the products could take much longer. "We
are actively studying and researching the abuse data to see if [the
compounds in 'bath salts'] warrant scheduling. We evaluate the
addictive potential and the harm to the user," explained Rusty
Payne, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
"But we are not the only agency involved -- the Department of
Health and Human Services is also involved. It can take years,
though it may not."
The agency is also looking into whether it should try to get a
12-month emergency rule to control the substances, he said.
In the meantime, lawmakers in Mississippi are close to enacting
a ban on the bath salt drugs there, and this week a measure to
outlaw the products neared passage in Kentucky, according to the
New York Senator Charles Schumer has also called for a ban on
the products and White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske spoke out
against the products earlier this week.
But officials and doctors may still be facing an uphill
When the ban in Louisiana went into effect, "calls dropped off
the cliff but in the last four days we've had one each day, so it's
starting again," Ryan said. In part, people are getting around the
ban by ordering the products off the Internet and having them
shipped to neighboring Mississippi, which has not yet outlawed
There's more on dangerous drugs at the
National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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