Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

drugs of the future: bath salts

Dr. Jeffrey J. Narmi could not believe what he was seeing this spring in the emergency room at Schuylkill Medical Center in Pottsville, Pa.: people arriving so agitated, violent and psychotic that a small army of medical workers was needed to hold them down.

They had taken new stimulant drugs that people are calling “bath salts,” and sometimes even large doses of sedatives failed to quiet them.

“There were some who were admitted overnight for treatment and subsequently admitted to the psych floor upstairs,” Dr. Narmi said. “These people were completely disconnected from reality and in a very bad place.”

Similar reports are emerging from hospitals around the country, as doctors scramble to figure out the best treatment for people high on bath salts. The drugs started turning up regularly in the United States last year and have proliferated in recent months, alarming doctors, who say they have unusually dangerous and long-lasting effects.

Though they come in powder and crystal form like traditional bath salts — hence their name — they differ in one crucial way: they are used as recreational drugs. People typically snort, inject or smoke them.

Poison control centers around the country received 3,470 calls about bath salts from January through June, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, up from 303 in all of 2010.

“Some of these folks aren’t right for a long time,” said Karen E. Simone, director of theNorthern New England Poison Center. “If you gave me a list of drugs that I wouldn’t want to touch, this would be at the top.”

At least 28 states have banned bath salts, which are typically sold for $25 to $50 per 50-milligram packet at convenience stores and head shops under names like Aura, Ivory Wave, Loco-Motion and Vanilla Sky. Most of the bans are in the South and the Midwest, where the drugs have grown quickly in popularity. But states like Maine, New Jersey and New York have also outlawed them after seeing evidence that their use was spreading.

The cases are jarring and similar to those involving PCP in the 1970s. Some of the recent incidents include a man in Indiana who climbed a roadside flagpole and jumped into traffic, a man in Pennsylvania who broke into a monastery and stabbed a priest, and a woman in West Virginia who scratched herself “to pieces” over several days because she thought there was something under her skin.

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