Bath salts new drug danger

2011-10-26T09:00:00Z Bath salts new drug dangerERIC BETZ Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
October 26, 2011 9:00 am  • 

At $125 a gram, you probably aren't going to want to drop these bath salts in the tub.

A small group of concerned parents and citizens gathered at Coconino High School last week to learn about new drug threats from two new drug highs with innocent names: spice and bath salts.

Both fall under the label of designer drugs -- or those designed to subvert drug tests -- because they are thought of as a legal way to get high, even though both have recently been declared illegal.

The drugmakers in the past have gotten away with selling the substances because they label their products "not for human consumption," said Cynthia Whiteman, a senior analyst with Norchem in Flagstaff.

However, because of their strength and lack of testing, the drugs can pack serious consequences for users, ranging from agitation and aggression to paranoid delusions and permanent psychological damage.

A Chandler man was sentenced to 15 years of probation last week after he was convicted of burning his 5-year-old son's hands with a lighter for touching a Bible. It was later discovered that the man had ingested bath salts and thought his son was possessed by demons.

Whiteman said that both drugs can cause delusions, panic attacks and permanent personality disorders.

And the drugs are worse than many illegal narcotics because they're much stronger and "bind tighter to the brain," she said.

POLICE STILL LOOKING

Although problems with spice have cropped up locally in recent years, Flagstaff Police Department officials said they have yet to see a problem with bath salts. The department first became aware of the drug a couple months ago and had to turn to the Internet to brush up on the problem, the officials said. Whiteman said she suspects the problem is already in the community, but that it just hasn't caught up to law enforcement yet.

Spice consists of herbs or vegetables and waste sprayed with chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the active chemical in marijuana.

The drug was first created some 40 years ago by chemists looking to replicate the positive medical properties of marijuana, Whiteman said. However, the chemical was abandoned because it had too much of a psychoactive response and no potential medical uses.

The spice currently being sold around town is anywhere from seven to 300 times stronger than marijuana, according to Whiteman.

"When you smoke marijuana, you can only get so high before you pass out," Whiteman said, later admitting she might actually prefer young people smoked pot instead.

Whiteman said her company, Norchem, conducts drug tests for various agencies and have seen spice use plummet in Coconino County since the government moved to outlaw the main chemicals originally used by drugmakers, even though new legal products are now available. She thinks public awareness of the hazards of spice has also increased.

Bath salt use, however, is likely to continue to increase, Whiteman said.

'IVORY WAVE'

A staffer with the Metro narcotics task force said agents have discovered bath salts a couple times, but they haven't seen any cases since the drugs were made illegal.

The substances are sold under a variety of names like "Charley Sheene Gold Bath Powder" and "Ivory Wave," but are actually a collection of different designer drugs.

Bath salts are designed to replicate the effects of ecstasy and cocaine and can be ordered over the Internet. A recent study from a drug advisory committee in the United Kingdom said that the collection of substances may be responsible for the deaths of as many as 100 people in that country.

The Drug Enforcement Agency used its emergency authority to ban bath salts this month, but the product is still readily available under the same names.

Legislators and law enforcement officials have had a hard time keeping up with the drugmakers, because as soon as one product is outlawed, manufacturers will modify a small piece of the molecular structure to create a legal product with a similar effect.

What frightens chemists like Whiteman is that with every new product, the drugs get stronger.

"You are the lab rat," Whiteman said. "There's no clinical studies, so we really don't know how dangerous they are."

Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or ebetz@azdailysun.com.

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