Federal and state officials are warning of the dangers of two new synthetic drugs that mimic cocaine or methamphetamines and are marketed as “bath salts.”
“These so-called bath salts contain ingredients that are nothing more than legally sanctioned narcotics, and they are being sold cheaply to all comers,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who has introduced a bill to ban the synthetic drugs, mephedrone and methylenedioxpyrovalerone, or MDPV.
Researchers at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency are studying the drugs to determine whether they should be listed as controlled substances. They are not approved for medical use, but manufacturers evade the law by marketing them as bath salts or plant food. They are sold at convenience stores, at head shops or on the Internet.
“This is bad stuff. This is really bad stuff,” said agency spokesman Rusty Payne, who said the drugs can cause rapid heart rates and lead to heart attacks or strokes, as well as nosebleeds, sweating, nausea and vomiting. The drugs can cause depression, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and seizures. There have been at least two reported deaths linked to the drugs’ use.
Synthetic drugs can’t be detected through routine drug testing, making such drugs attractive to those required to take regular tests, Payne said. Special tests are available through some laboratories, but designer drugs are constantly being created by illicit drug makers.
“This is definitely a problem in the workplace because, again, it’s legal. There’s no federal control over these things as of yet,” Payne said. “Unfortunately, there’s a false notion that just because something is legal that it’s safe. And that’s hurting a lot of people.”
Several states have banned the drugs contained in the bath salts. They are Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and North Dakota. Florida has a temporary ban.
In the first five weeks of this year, U.S. poison centers have taken 373 calls regarding toxic products marketed as bath salts, compared with 291 calls in 2010, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
The bath salts are sold in small, inexpensive foil packets under names such as Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky. Most patients calling the poison centers have snorted the substances, said Louisiana Poison Center Director Mark Ryan.