Synthetic Drug Problematic for US Authorities

AUGUSTA COUNTY, Virginia – A new synthetic drug, commonly called bath salts, hit America’s streets a couple of years ago, but it went unnoticed until police began reporting cases of addicts with bizarre behavior.  Then, last month, authorities in Miami, Florida accused a man of eating another man’s face.

It’s calm now.  But it hasn’t always been like this for Ashley. Last year, she awoke one morning inside a car, with no shoes and the temperature minus 8 degrees Celsius.  She says she was high on bath salts.

“This drug is psychotic. It is a crazy thing that no one should mess with,” said Ashley.

Like most users, Ashley snorted this synthetic drug to get high. It looks similar, but is not the bath salts people use to soften bathwater.

Doctors say bath salts put users into a state of excited delirium. They are paranoid, super human – on a long-lasting high.

Addicts are often violent.  A man took off his clothes and allegedly bit off the face of another.  In another incident Police say a woman stripped and attacked her three-year-old son and her pit bull dog.
 
Calls to poison centers across the country have gone from none three years ago, to more than 6,000 last year.  Dr. Paul Stromberg of the Virginia Poison Center says hotline workers now know the symptoms.

“Patients have to be subdued by multiple police officers.  And, for whatever reason, every time you hear somebody is taking their clothes off, that usually is a bath salt case,” said Stromberg.

Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine have just discovered why bath salt drugs are so powerful. Louis DeFelice says they change the brain composition and act as if they are a mix of two drugs.

“This is a very powerful methamphetamine and very powerful, long lasting cocaine,” said DeFelice.

Mephedrone is one of the main chemicals in bath salts.  It can have hundreds of variations, making detection virtually impossible.  So once one variation is banned, the kitchen chemist simply mixes up a different one.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has placed a temporary ban on bath salts.  Congress is trying to write a law to encompass all the mephedrone compounds.

In the meantime, all these bath salt knockoffs are legal in most states, and readily available.

Police in the United States are stymied by a new synthetic drug, and its numerous variations, that is legal in many states.  Police say so-called bath salts allegedly got their start in Europe as a club drug and were made in Asia.  A dilemma faces law enforcement.  There is no detection test and no federal law on this drug that causes violent, unpredictable actions.

Augusta County, Virginia, is a rural county in the Blue Ridge Mountains, two and a half hours southwest of Washington.  It has a big problem.   

Sheriff Randy Fisher says Augusta County was once known as the methamphetamine capital.

“Basically that’s all our drug guys were doing were meth cases.  Then meth cases started dropping off and all we’re doing now are bath salt cases,” said Fisher.

Those meth users turned to bath salts because they are cheaper and some versions are still legal.  All these legal versions of bath salts masquerade as common household products.  Now Fisher’s department handles about one bath salt incident every day.

Storeowner Tina Phillips says her store doesn’t carry bath salts, but about three addicts a day ask for them.

“They were almost out of their mind.  Like crazy.  Eyes great big.  Scary,” said Phillips.

Authorities say the county’s bath salts are manufactured in Southeast Asia or China, and distributed through New York City.

“I wish they could realize what it’s doing over here, the problem it’s causing to people,” said Deputy Sheriff Trevor Ross.

Because of its chemical makeup, bath salts can have many derivative compounds, eluding detection.  

“With meth or cocaine, we got test kits available, and when we see it, we can test right there in the street and say, it’s illegal,” said Narcotics officer Todd Lloyd.  “And, we can do something about it.  But this?  What are we going to do?”

These officers say they need a federal law against all bath salts, and their derivatives.  Without a law or official test, deputies say the same users keep turning up on the same streets eluding any effort to arrest them or to get them treatment.

Carolyn Presutti
Voice of America
June 26, 2012

Since this story was published, a toxicology report released by Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s office in Florida states the man involved in the face-biting incident had only marijuana in his system, not synthetic drugs such as bath salts, as previously reported.

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