Of­fi­cials fear bath salts be­com­ing the next big drug men­ace

Law­mak­ers in some states con­sid­er­ing ban­ning their sale

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY SHEILA BYRD

Ful­ton, miss. — When Neil Brown got high on bath salts, he took his skin­ning knife and slit his face and stom­ach re­peat­edly. Brown sur­vived, but au­thor­i­ties say oth­ers haven’t been so lucky af­ter snort­ing, in­ject­ing or smok­ing pow­ders with such in­nocu­ous-sound­ing names as Ivory Snow, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky.

Law en­force­ment agents and poi­son con­trol cen­ters say the bath salts, with their com­plex chem­i­cal names, are an emerg­ing men­ace in sev­eral U.S. states where au­thor­i­ties talk of ban­ning their sale. Some say their ef­fects can be as pow­er­ful as those of metham­phetamine.

From the Deep South to Cal­i­for­nia, emer­gency calls are be­ing re­ported over ex­po­sure to the stim­u­lants the pow­ders of­ten con­tain: mephedrone and methylene­dioxypy­rovalerone, also known as MDPV.

Sold un­der such names as Ivory Wave, Bliss, White Light­ning and Hur­ri­cane Char­lie, the chem­i­cals can cause hal­lu­ci­na­tions, para­noia, a rapid heart rate and sui­ci­dal thoughts, au­thor­i­ties say. In ad­di­tion to bath salts, the chem­i­cals can be found in plant foods that are sold legally at con­ve­nience stores and on the In­ter­net. How­ever, they aren’t nec­es­sar­ily be­ing used for the pur­poses on the la­bel.

Mis­sis­sippi law­mak­ers this week be­gan con­sid­er­ing a pro­posal to ban the sale of the pow­ders, and a sim­i­lar mea­sure is be­ing sought in Ken­tucky. In Louisiana, the bath salts were out­lawed by an emer­gency or­der af­ter the state’s poi­son cen­ter re­ceived more than 125 calls in the last three months of 2010 in­volv­ing ex­po­sure to the chem­i­cals.

In Brown’s case, he said he had tried ev­ery drug from heroin to crack and was so shaken by ter­ri­fy­ing hal­lu­ci­na­tions that he wrote to one Mis­sis­sippi paper urg­ing peo­ple to stay away from the bath salts.

“I couldn’t tell you why I did it,” Brown said, point­ing to his scars. “ The psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects are still there.”

While Brown sur­vived, sher­iff ’s au­thor­i­ties in one Mis­sis­sippi county say they be­lieve one woman over­dosed on bath salts there. In south­ern Louisiana, the fam­ily of a 21-year-old man says he cut his throat and ended his life with a gun­shot. Au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether a man charged with cap­i­tal murder in the De­cem­ber death of a Tip­pah County, Miss., sher­iff ’s deputy was un­der the in­flu­ence of the bath salts.

The stim­u­lants are not reg­u­lated by the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, but are fac­ing fed­eral scru­tiny. Law of­fi­cers say some of the sub­stances are be­ing shipped from Europe, but ori­gins are still un­clear.

Gary Boggs, an ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant at the DEA, said there is a lengthy process to re­strict these types of de­signer chem­i­cals, in­clud­ing re­view­ing the abuse data. But it’s a process that can take years.

Mark Ryan, di­rec­tor of Louisiana’s poi­son con­trol cen­ter, said he thinks state bans on the chem­i­cals can be ef­fec­tive. He said calls about the salts have dropped sharply since Louisiana banned their sale in Jan­uary.

Ryan said cathi­none, the par­ent sub­stance of the drugs, comes from a plant grown in Africa and is reg­u­lated. He said that MDPV and mephedrone are made in a lab and that they are not reg­u­lated be­cause they are not mar­keted for hu­man con­sump­tion. The stim­u­lants af­fect neu­ro­trans­mit­ters in the brain, he said.

The drugs cause “in­tense crav­ings,” he said. “ They’ll binge on it three or four days be­fore they show up in an ER. Even though it’s a hor­ri­ble trip, they want to do it again and again.”

Ryan said at least 25 states have re­ceived calls about ex­po­sure, in­clud­ing Ne­vada and Cal­i­for­nia. He said Louisiana leads with the great­est num­ber of cases at 165, or 48 per­cent of the U.S. to­tal, fol­lowed by Florida with at least 38 calls to its poi­son cen­ter.

Rick Gel­lar, med­i­cal di­rec­tor for the Cal­i­for­nia Poi­son Con­trol Sys­tem, said the first call about the sub­stances came in Oct. 5, and a hand­ful of calls have fol­lowed since. But he warned: “ The only way this won’t be­come a prob­lem in Cal­i­for­nia is if fed­eral reg­u­la­tory agen­cies get ahead of the curve. This is a brand-new thing.”

In the Mid­west, the Mis­souri Poi­son Cen­ter at Car­di­nal Glen­non Chil­dren’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter in St. Louis re­ceived at least 12 calls in the first two weeks of Jan­uary about teenagers and young adults abus­ing such chem­i­cals, said Julie We­ber, the cen­ter’s di­rec­tor. The cen­ter re­ceived eight calls about the pow­ders all of last year.

Richard San­ders, a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner work­ing in Cov­ing­ton, La., said his son, Dickie, snorted some of the bath salts and en­dured three days of in­ter­mit­tent delir­ium. Dickie San­ders cut his throat but missed ma­jor ar­ter­ies. As he con­tin­ued to have vi­sions, his physi­cian fa­ther tried to calm him. But the elder San­ders said that as he slept, his son went into an­other room and shot him­self.

“If you could see the con­tor­tions on his face. It just made him crazy,” San­ders said. He added that the coro­ner’s of­fice con­firmed that the chem­i­cals were de­tected in his son’s blood and urine.

San­ders warns that the bath salts are far more dan­ger­ous than some of their names im­ply.

“I think ev­ery­body is tak­ing this ex­tremely lightly. As much as we out­lawed it in Louisiana, all these kids cross over to Mis­sis­sippi and buy what­ever they want,” he said.

A small packet of the chem­i­cals typ­i­cally costs as lit­tle as $20.

In north­ern Mis­sis­sippi’s Itawamba County, Sher­iff Chris Dick­in­son said his of­fice has han­dled about 30 en­coun­ters with bath-salts users in the past two months alone. He said the prob­lem grew last year in his ru­ral area af­ter a Mis­sis­sippi law be­gan re­strict­ing the sale of pseu­doephedrine, a key in­gre­di­ent in mak­ing metham­phetamine.

Dick­in­son said most of the bath-salts users there have been meth ad­dicts and can be dan­ger­ous when us­ing them.

“We had a deputy in­jured a week ago. They were fight­ing with a guy who thought they were two devils. That’s what­makes this drug so dan­ger­ous,” he said.

But Dick­in­son said the chem­i­cals are le­gal, leav­ing him no choice but to slap users just with a charge of dis­or­derly con­duct, a mis­de­meanor.

Ken­tucky state law­maker John Til­ley said he’s mov­ing to block the drug’s sale there, pre­par­ing a bill for con­sid­er­a­tion when his leg­is­la­ture con­venes shortly. An­gry that the pow­ders can be bought legally, he said: “If my 12-year-old can go in a store and buy it, that con­cerns me.”

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