Bath salts: a scary new drug
On Friday, Oct. 21 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) banned a designer drug marketed as “bath salts” in United States convenience stores, head shops and online. The drug is known for its extreme hallucinogenic potency, addictiveness and causing violent, paranoid effects on its users.
In an emergency measure last week, the DEA banned the three chemicals used to make the bath salts. Mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and methylone will be listed for a year in the DEA’s most restrictive category as researchers study the stimulants in greater detail to make a permanent decision on the drugs’ status.
The drug has caused increasing concern for medical workers, police officers and government officials across the state and across the country. Since July 6, when Maine Governor Paul LePage signed a law banning 21 hallucinogenic drugs and stimulants in the state, Maine has made the possession or sale of the drugs illegal. In late September, Maine passed emergency legislation to increase restrictions in an effort to further deter the drug’s proliferation in the state, making furnishing and trafficking the drug felony offenses.
Bath salts, which are snorted, injected, ingested or smoked, started making a name for themselves in 2010. Usage really took off by 2011, landing thousands in emergency rooms where doctors and poison control centers reported that their patients were acting psychotic. Some of the extreme cases involve self-mutilation—a woman in Clinton tried to cut out her teeth because she said they were embedded with ticks. Bath salts users lose track of who they are and suffer intense paranoia.
The known physical and psychological side effects are extreme. In addition to causing suicidal thoughts, the drug increases heart rate and literally breaks down users’ muscles, which can cause organ failure. Given that the drug is relatively new, long-term effects are yet unknown. Further, the violence of many users puts a huge strain on the services of both medical and police responders.
In an Oct. 18 story on National Public Radio (NPR), Dr. Jonnathan Busko, who oversees the emergency room at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, said he has seen up to eight bath salts incidents in one day. According to the story, bath salts patients “take three to four nurses, our techs, our security staff and a physician to care for them,” whereas an average patient needs only the attention of one nurse and one doctor.
“And that’s just for each of them,” Busko said. “So if we’re seeing four to five of those at any given time, that’s a tremendous use of our resources, and it really draws us away from our other patients.”
In Maine, the drug has become an epidemic, and Waterville and Bangor are known as the epicenters. The Portland Press Herald has referred to Bangor as “ground zero” in the war on bath salts.
Detective Lincoln Ryder of the Waterville Police Department wrote in an e-mail that “Bath Salts… are common here in town, though less so than in the Bangor area. We saw some decrease in the area after the legislation was enacted” earlier this year in July. Local police did not have a specific count for bath salts offenses. In early September, there were two bath salts drug busts in Fairfield, during which police seized 365 packets of bath salts in the span of a week.
Bath salts have claimed responsibility for over 20 deaths nationwide in the past two years.