We hear about them in the news every day. Sold under such innocuous-sounding names as Red Dove, Bliss, Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky, bath salts are anything but a way to relax in the tub - they are a white powder sold in packets that are snorted, smoked or injected and they have become a menacing problem in communities across the United States.
In Louisiana, Dickie Sanders, after snorting bath salts and enduring three days of intermittent delirium, shot himself to escape the disturbing hallucinations. In Kentucky, Cynthia Palmer was snorting bath salts and began to hallucinate while driving interstate 24. Kentucky State Police found her 2-year-old boy lying on the edge of the road with head injuries where his mother had dropped him. In Mississippi, Neil Brown barely survived after taking his skinning knife and slitting his face and abdomen; he said he had ingested bath salts before attempting to kill himself.
Dr. Zane Horowitz, medical director of the Oregon Poison Control Center, says, "It's confusing. Is this what we put in the bathtub, like Epsom salts? No. But by marketing them as 'bath salts' and labeling them 'not for human consumption,' illegal street chemists have been able to avoid them being specifically designated as illegal."
It is presumed that most bath salts contain methedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), but makers of these designer drugs have learned to stay one step ahead of the law. Some states have enacted laws banning the chemical ingredients in bath salts, but by the time laws catch up to the producers of these drugs, they have switched the formula and morphed the substance into something new. It is very difficult to test for the ever-changing ingredients in bath salts; Dr. Horowitz notes that the only way to know if someone has taken bath salts to high is if that person tells you.
Disturbingly, the super high produced by bath salts is similar to that of amphetamines, crack or cocaine, but does not level off. Even after two or three days of not using bath salts, the effects of the original use can get stronger and the symptoms worse. Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, says that even if the user gets to the emergency room, normal sedatives, even in high doses, do not control the symptoms. "The longest I heard was someone who was sedated for 12 days and the psychosis came right back," said Ryan. "The huge concern is the possibility that some of these effects will be permanent."
The effects of bath salt use are horrific, including anxiety, paranoia, delusions, insomnia, vivid nightmares and suicidal thoughts. The user may also experience high blood pressure, severe stomach pains, vomiting, seizures, coma or even death. The most frightening aspect of bath salts may be their extremely addictive property. Despite the fact that the drug experience can be grossly unpleasant, users report intense cravings for the substance. And it is particularly heartbreaking that bath salt usage is a new trend among teenagers, many of whom end up in emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals.
Washington County is not immune to the scourge of bath salts. Local emergency rooms have been seeing an alarming number of bath salts cases and we at the Washington County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery Board have been getting numerous calls from parents desperate to find help for their children who are using bath salts. What can we as parents and as a community do to combat the problem?
Protest the sale of these substances anywhere they are sold in the community.
Support legislation that bans certain chemicals used in bath salts and other designer drugs.
Monitor your child's spending and Internet habits. Bath salts are easily available at any age and can be purchased on the Internet for about $20.
Be aware of any unusual behavior that could indicate drug use. Talk with your child(ren) about bath salts and their potentially lethal effects.
If you have questions about bath salts or any other dangerous drug, call the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.
Miriam Keith is consumer support coordinator of the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board. Mental Health Matters appears on the Opinion page on the first Saturday of each month.