‘Bath Salts': Use of Dangerous Drug Increasing Across US

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A Delaware senator has praised pending legislation proposing a nationwide ban on "bath salts," a dangerous synthetic drug that's on the rise in the United States and might have led to the recent attack in Miami where a man allegedly ate off 80 percent of a homeless man's face.

"Dangerous drugs like bath salts are terrorizing our communities and destroying lives," Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said in a statement Monday.  "Stricter measures must be taken to stem the growing prevalence of bath salts and other new designer drugs."

The number of calls to poison centers concerning "bath salts" rose to 6,138 in 2011 from 304 in 2010, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.  More than 1,000 calls have been made so far this year.

These so-called bath salts, not to be confused with cleansing products, are an inexpensive, synthetic, super-charged form of speed.  The drug consists of a potpourri of constantly changing chemicals, three of which -- mephedrone, MDPV and methylone -- were banned last year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Bath salts are still easily available online, though, and come in brand names such as "Purple Wave," "Zoom" or "Cloud Nine."  A 50-milligram packet sells for $25 to $50.

The drugs create a condition police have come to call an "excited delirium" that makes users paranoid, violent and unpredictable.  Miami police last month shot and killed a man who was allegedly feasting on the face of a homeless man in a daylight attack on a busy highway.  Police are investigating whether the drugs found in bath salts were in the alleged attacker's system.

In most cases, the active ingredient found in bath salts is a chemical known as metheylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV for short.  As far as the effects they have, bath salts are a central nervous system stimulant that acts something like a mix of methamphetamine and cocaine.

They dramatically increase the dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the human brain in two dangerous ways: by pouring more dopamine in as methamphetamine does, and at the same time, like cocaine, trapping both of these chemicals in the brain, so the user doesn't come down.

It's a dangerous situation, leading to a high that some drug abuse experts describe as up to 13 times more potent than cocaine.  The altered mental status it brings can lead to panic attacks, agitation, paranoia, hallucinations and violent behavior.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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