Guest Post: “Bath Salts” — What Parents Need to Know About These Dangerous New Drugs

Today I’m happy to welcome Richard J. Geller, M.D., MPH, of the California Poison Control System, as a guest blogger on Parent Talk Today. To learn more about bath salts and other harmful substances, along with info on how to talk with your kids about these issues, follow California Poison Control System on Facebook and @poisoninfo on Twitter. Thanks, Dr. Geller, for this important info for parents.

Beginning in September, 2010, U.S. poison control centers began to receive reports of patients ill from the effects of a series of previously unreported drugs of abuse collectively known as “bath salts.”  These agents have nothing to do with bathing, and, like the synthetic cannabinoids marketed as “spice,” are marketed as something other than what they really are.  Most recent data as of this week is that U.S. poison centers took 236 calls for 2010. We are at 220 to date for 2011.

“Bath salts” are powders that are often sold in 250 mg amounts, packaged in either small zip-lock bags or in jar-like containers, costing $15 to $65.  Like methamphetamine, they are ingested, snorted, smoked or injected, and have been placed in the rectum and vagina. Users are most often males ages 20 to 25 years.

What is known about “bath salts” is that they combine the more dangerous effects of a number of previously identified drugs of abuse: visual and sometimes auditory hallucinations similar, and possibly worse, than LSD; rapid tolerance and craving similar to crack cocaine; extremely violent behavior similar to PCP and methamphetamine; and an unusually long duration of effect and psychotic behavior that may not resolve after the drug is eliminated from the body.

“Bath salts” were first observed in Louisiana, where more than 200 exposures have been reported to the Louisiana Poison Control Center.  Several “bath salt” users have mutilated themselves with knives. One shot himself in the head.  Law enforcement officials believe that eventually they will have to use extreme force with “bath salt” users.  Visual hallucinations caused one user to barricade himself in an attic with a shotgun, threatening to kill the occupants of the home.  Significant “bath salt” use is now being reported in Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi and Missouri.

On both the federal and state levels, “bath salts” have been legal to sell and to use.  Louisiana’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals signed an emergency declaration in January 2011 banning the sale of “bath salts” in that state, resulting in an immediate slowing of reports of illness to the state’s poison control center.  Other states are considering similar measures.

The most common substance identified in “bath salts” is 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, and marketed as Ivory Wave and Energy-1.  Commonly found is Mephedrone, also known as 4-Methylmethcathinone, a compound very similar in structure to Methamphetamine, and marketed as Bounce, Bubbles, M-CAT, Mad Cow and Meow Meow.  Other substances implicated as “bath salts” are 3,4-Methylenedioxymethcathinone (Methylone), 4-Methoxymethcathinone, 4-Fluoromethcathinone and 3-Fluoromethcathinone.  The latter four substances are derivatives of Methcathinone, also known as Khat, Jeff and Cat, a drug structurally and pharmaceutically similar to methamphetamine.  Methcathenone has a long history as a drug of abuse in Asia.

The Louisiana experience suggests that law enforcement personnel encountering “bath salt” users should be prepared to deal with extremely confused (visual hallucinations) and possibly very violent individuals who may be armed.  Healthcare professionals encountering “bath salt” users should be aware that the usual sedative medications, i.e., benzodiazepines, may not be effective, and that major tranquillizers, especially ziprasidone, have been useful.

The California Poison Control System believes that “Bath Salt” products are a grave danger to public health, and urges that immediate steps be taken to ban their sale in California.

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2 Responses to “Guest Post: “Bath Salts” — What Parents Need to Know About These Dangerous New Drugs”

  1. Linda says:

    Wow this is pretty horrifiying. Add one more substance to the list.

  2. Kathy says:

    Yeah, no kidding, Linda. Like we need one more thing out there. And the violence aspect is a big concern, too. Pretty tough job, working in the ER these days.

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