It sounds like a bad joke but for emergency workers, it is not a laughing matter. Sold under such names as Ivory Wave, Bliss, White Lightning and Hurricane Charlie, the chemicals in bath salts can cause hallucinations, paranoia, a rapid heart rate and suicidal thoughts, authorities say.
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. Across the nation, emergency calls are being reported over exposure to the stimulants the powders often contain: mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV.
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.
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. Cathinone, the parent substance of the drugs, comes from a plant grown in Africa and is regulated. Officials say 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.
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.
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.
A small packet of the chemicals typically costs as little as $20. Reportedly most of the bath-salts users there have been meth addicts and can be dangerous when using them.