Bath Salts

Bath Salts -- A New Drug Risk Among Teens

By Michael Craig Miller M.D. 

Harvard Medical School

Parents are rightfully asking questions about a relatively new group of drugs called "bath salts." These are potent stimulants that are nothing like the Epsom salts people may put in a hot bath to relieve aches and pains.

Anyone with a teenager should understand what bath salts are. The good news is that teens seem to be aware that these are dangerous substances: Use of bath salts is trending down, not up.

What Are Bath Salts?

Bath salts come in powder form. People can take them by mouth. But often they snort or inject them, which is associated with greater risk.

Bath salts are designed by drug suppliers and users specifically to get around laws that govern controlled or illegal drugs.

The active chemicals in these salts — mephedrone, pyrovalerone or MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone) — are stimulants. They are chemically different from drugs such as amphetamine, cocaine or ecstasy, yet have similar effects on the brain. They are thus likely to be highly addictive.

People have been able to buy bath salts at "head shops" where drug paraphernalia is sold, at some convenience stores and gas stations, and on the Internet. The products go by names such as White Rush, Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave, Ocean Snow, Charge Plus, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom and Sextasy. The category even has alternative names, such as "plant food," "pond cleaner" and "insect repellent." Internet sellers label their products as "not intended for human consumption" to avoid prosecution.

Bath salts came to the attention of public health researchers and officials around 2010. The drugs quickly became a worrisome fad among both young and middle-aged people. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a dramatic increase in use of bath salts from 2010 to 2011. In 2010, U.S. poison control centers logged 302 calls about bath salts. By 2011, they logged 6,136 calls. As a result, the National Institute on Drug Abuse began to survey bath-salt use in 2012.

Fortunately, a growing number of teens seem to be aware that these are risky drugs.

  • The number of calls to poison centers regarding bath salts decreased in 2012.
  • In 2013, almost 60% of 8th, 10th and 12th graders thought trying bath salts even once or twice would be harmful.
  • By 2014, the use of bath salts and other synthetic drugs had begun to decline.

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What Are the Risks?

Since bath salts are such a recent phenomenon, we have relatively limited information about their short- and long-term effects. But people who use these drugs do risk serious side effects — even death.

Emergency room data indicate that bath salts cause symptoms similar to those that occur with stimulant intoxication. Stimulants increase alertness, attention and energy. They also cause neurological symptoms, such as:

  • Dilated pupils and involuntary muscle movements
  • High blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
  • Delusions, hallucinations and paranoia

As with other stimulants, people who are intoxicated with bath salts may become aggressive or violent.

Men and women appear to abuse bath salts in nearly equal numbers. Nearly 70% of users report having abused other drugs in the past. Many users also report having some type of mental disorder, such as bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia.

People who have a dangerous reaction to bath salts can recover — as long as they reach an emergency room as soon as possible.

Since they are relatively new substances, bath salts usually are not detected by standard drug screens in emergency rooms. Specialized labs may need to test for them. An emergency room doctor can only make the diagnosis by taking a history and observing the symptoms.

Treatment is usually the same as for stimulant intoxication — a benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam (Ativan), to counter the effects of the stimulant, along with an antipsychotic drug if necessary.

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How To Stay Ahead of the Threat

Law enforcement officials at both the state and national levels have been clamping down on bath salts. But the drugs are still available through various channels. It is therefore wise to assume your teenage children or other loved ones could get them if they want.

Teenagers and young adults often discount the risks of drug use. And, especially in the heat of the moment, if they are offered a drug, it may be very difficult to resist the invitation to join the party. So it's worth getting information to them about the dangers of bath salts. Given the more recent decline in bath salt use, maybe they are finding safer ways to have fun.

You can find more information on the NIDA for Teens website, a project of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health. 

Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is the former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller has an active clinical practice and has been on staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for more than 30 years

Grieving mother issues warning after son’s dad dies from Mount Isa designer drug

LITTLE Franklin isn’t two years old yet, but already he’s the face of the deadly impact of synthetic “designer” drugs on families.

Franklin will never know his father, boilermaker Allan Hughes, 27, who is one of five deaths in Mount Isa that have been linked to MDPV, also known as “bath salts” or synthetic speed.

“Drugs took away Allan’s life,” his partner Stephanie King said. “But it’s stolen ours.’’

Ms King, a research assistant at James Cook University, has broken her silence about her tragic New Year’s Day loss in the hope she can send a potent anti-drug message to help prevent deaths.

It comes after two men last week died from using synthetic cannabis in Mackay.

“Don’t take it, sell it, or be a part of drugs because it will destroy you, your life and the people who love you,’’ Ms King said. “Franklin has lost his father forever. These drugs are ripping too many people’s lives apart.’’

She said Allan was an ordinary, hard-working, doting dad and family man.

“It’s heartbreaking. Allan was a wonderful loving father who will not see his son grow up or see and share the joy as Franklin reaches his milestones.”

Initial findings show his death was caused by MDPV (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone) intoxication after an end-of-year party in the mining town.

MDPV, labelled as “bath salts”, is illicitly sold at sex shops and some tobacconists for about $35 a packet under names such as “Smokin’ Slurrie Incense”, “Hoe”, “Slut”, “Slappa” or “Mingah”.

It can induce psychosis, paranoia, violence, and hallucinations that can last for days. Users take it because it is a cheap and easily obtainable “mimic” of drugs such as amphetamine, LSD or ecstasy.

“It changed Allan. It made him irrational,’’ Ms King said.

“But it was just some toxic cocktail of killer chemicals.’’

In a heartfelt plea, the widow begged: “Stop. Think about what you’re doing and the lives you are ruining. It is time to bring these killer drugs out of the shadows. Cut this business out. Enough is enough,” she said. “Even one death is one too many.’

Former Traverse City man used Internet to buy synthetic drugs from China, sold in Michigan, elsewhere

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A former Traverse City man has been sentenced to prison for importing synthetic drugs into Michigan and New York after finding a supplier on the Internet.

Joshua David Buerman, 27, was sentenced to nine years in prison for conspiracy to import into Michigan more than 5 kilograms of methylone, a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure that closely resembles Ecstasy, or MDMA.

Methylone is often sold as “bath salts” or research chemicals. It has been listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act since 2013.

Buerman received a concurrent nine-year sentence for his role in a conspiracy to bring methylone to New York. Although he was originally charged in the Western District of Michigan, the case was transferred to New York.

“Synthetic drugs such as methylone are extremely dangerous,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles Jr. said in Grand Rapids.

“Users are often misled into believing synthetic drugs are less harmful than more commonly known street drugs, particularly by their innocuous sounding street name, ‘bath salts.’ In truth, synthetic drugs can lead to severe psychological dependence and death.”

Buerman was living in Traverse City in February 2012 when he began buying methylone and other synthetic drugs from a Chinese source he found on the Internet. In coming months, he ordered more than 5 kilograms of methylone, delivered through the U.S. Postal Service.

Months later, he left Michigan and moved back to Rochester, N.Y., where he continued to import drugs from the same supplier. He recruited several associates there to help him.

Investigators learned during the investigation that Buerman’s supplier was shipping substances to the U.S., Austria, Canada, Finland, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Lithuania, prosecutors said.

The investigation led to 54 arrests in the U.S. and seizure of more than 70 kilograms of methylone and other synthetic substances.

John Agar covers crime for MLive/Grand Rapids Press E-mail John and follow him on Twitter at

Minnesota City drug bust nets five, after suspects show up to house being raided

A Boxing Day search warrant sent five people to jail for possession of synthetic drugs and other charges.

Members of the Southeast Minnesota Narcotics and Gang Task Force, along with the Winona County Emergency Response Team, employed a flash-bang device on entering the Anthony Alfonso Simonic residence in Minnesota City Dec. 26, according to court documents.

Law enforcement officers found Simonic, 45, on the living room sofa and Taylor Elizabeth Paetzel, 22, in an upstairs bedroom, according to court documents. Pipes, scorched aluminum foil, and other items associated with drug use were found throughout the house, many coated with a white powder identified as Alpha-PVP, an illegal synthetic drug often referred to as bath salts on the street. The odor of Alpha-PVP also hung in the air.

Investigators found the house cluttered and in general disarray, according to court documents. The kitchen was cluttered with dirty dishes and decaying food, with no clean spot to eat or prepare a meal. The refrigerator reeked of rotten food and contained nothing edible, and there was “a strange, strong, rotten odor coming from somewhere near the couch in the living room.”

The report states that three warrants had been served at the address in the past, the latest coming in October 2013, and that living conditions in the house had steadily deteriorated since.

While investigators searched, a vehicle pulled up and a man got out and approached the residence. When the man, identified as Dylan Thomas Bundy, 19, spotted an officer, he backed away, tossing items from his pocket into the snow, according to court documents. The items, a pipe and container containing Alpha-PVP, were recovered and Bundy was taken into custody.

Bundy was convicted of robbery in 2011 for his role in robbing a pizza delivery driver in east Winona. He was convicted again for robbery in 2012 after admitting to robbing Walmart by pushing aside a cashier and taking cash from the register; he served 20 months in prison for that crime.

Behind the wheel of the vehicle, officers found Samantha Leann Ewing, 34, visibly nervous and agitated, speaking rapidly in short, choppy sentences and moving constantly. An open purse with a pin inside was plainly visible between the seats, and also found to contain a contact lens case that tested positive for Alpha-PVP, according to court documents.

At this time, investigators observed a vehicle slowly pass the residence, driven by Jonathan Thomas Walters, 26. A sheriff’s deputy followed Walters’ vehicle and executed a traffic stop for a burned out license plate light. Walters showed signs of impairment and failed a field sobriety test, according to court documents. Taken to the Law Enforcement Center, he refused blood and urine tests. A dollar bill rolled into a bindle containing Alpha-PVP was found in his wallet, as well as several foil bindles containing more of the drug.

Felony charges of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance were filed against each of the five individuals Monday in Winona County District Court.

In addition, Simonic faces a gross misdemeanor charge of maintaining a disorderly house, and Walters is charged with first-degree driving while impaired.

Bath salts making a comeback

Bath salts are back.
The Upstate New York Poison Center has seen a resurgence in calls related to bath salts and other synthetic drugs in the past few months, said Administrative Director Michele Caliva.
“We’re still seeing it and we have seen in the last few months an increase again,” she said. “It’s nowhere near what we saw in 2012 and 2013, but it’s still a spike.”
The poison center first started getting calls about synthetic drugs known as bath salts in early 2011. The chemicals in them were legal at that time. Their use exploded in the spring of 2012 and every day multiple calls came over the police scanner about an incident involving someone apparently high on bath salts.
The symptoms of use also started to become more intense in some cases; police and health care workers struggled to deal with users who often were belligerent, hallucinating and super strong. A number of them stripped, became violent toward things that weren’t really there and even threatened to eat people.
A coalition of politicians, health care workers, poison control center staff, drug treatment specialists and law enforcement fought back, quickly pushing through legislation to ban the chemicals in bath salts and cracking down on the head shops that sold them. The epidemic faded, although bath salts never completely went away.
This year, the poison center has received 31 bath salts calls and another seven calls for synthetic drugs, including ones called molly, Caliva said. Those seven calls have all come since August, four of them in November, she said.
Names don’t mean much when it comes to synthetic drugs. There’s an ever evolving variety of synthetic drugs out there and any one of them might be referred to as bath salts or molly, which used to be the name of a form of MDMA, Caliva said.
They all act as stimulants and can cause tachycardia, hypertension, agitation, hallucinations, paranoia and altered reality, she said. But the chemicals have changed and they’re not causing the most extreme reactions seen in 2012, Caliva said. That could, of course, change.
Synthetic drugs pose many difficulties for the health care workers treating users. Without elaborate testing, no one knows exactly what chemical configuration was in the drug in question, Caliva said.
“It makes it so difficult, it really does,” she said. “You just don’t know.”
Follow @OD_Roth on Twitter or call her at 792-5166.

Bangor's Battle Against 'Bath Salts' Yields Lessons for Other Communities

BANGOR, Maine - Three years ago, "bath salts" were big news in Maine. The synthetic drugs were blamed for acts of bizarre behavior and crimes that had law enforcement and emergency room doctors scrambling.

Jay Field reports on how Bangor successfully tackled the problem of bath salts.

But now, the use of these drugs is on the decline. And Maine's response to the problem has served as a model for cities and states around the country.

Retired Bangor Police Lt. Tom Reagan remembers a call he got back in 2011. "I'm monitoring the radio," he recalls. "I was the third one to arrive. Two officers arrived just before I did."

Reagan, who was the department's night commander at the time, is standing in front of the house where the call took place. As the cruisers pulled up, a woman in her 20's was looking up at the trees, screaming, "because her boyfriend was up there with five other women," Reagan says.

No one was up in the trees. At the time, Reagan says officers thought she was psychotic. "This particular girl was addicted early on and we dealt with her almost nightly," he says. "We'd get calls from her boyfriend that she was paranoid and threatening to kill him."

The girl was high on a street drug commonly called bath salts, which no one knew existed.

"It kind of just spread like wildfire," says Tim Shaw, an overdose prevention specialist with Bangor's public health department. Shaw says the drug caused havoc. Users would take their clothes off in public and violently threaten police officers, jail guards, emergency room doctors and nurses on a daily basis.

Shaw did research in effort to find out exactly what Bangor was dealing with. "I tried to figure out what's out there for education, what's out there for just materials to distribute," he says. "And there was - couldn't find anything. Really, we just had to start from the ground up."

Doctors, police, city leaders, public health workers - they had to start thinking like scientists, graphic designers, even marketing specialists. The city needed an attention-grabbing way to warn the community about the dangerous drug's familiar name, and the seductive, colorful packets it came in.

"Warning - Bath Salts," read one flyer from the city health department. "This is not a beauty aid." Businesses down town, reeling from encounters with bath salts users, displayed the flyer prominently in their storefront windows. And this video kicked off one of the many public forums held throughout the Bangor and beyond.

Audio from video: "I was emaciated. I lost about 40 pounds in those three weeks. I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping."

Word began to get out. But one key piece of the strategy was missing: "We needed laws," says Roy McKinney, of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

McKinney says that in early 2011, bath salts could be legally purchased in gas stations and head shops. Laws were eventually passed banning the sale and possession of the drug.

And slowly, as 2011 gave way to 2012, Bangor was able to get the crisis under control, heading off its biggest fear - that teenagers would start using bath salts in large numbers. Mary Elliot is with Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.

"When it comes to young people," Elliot says, "obviously perception of harm and risk is a big driver in whether they're going to try a drug."

Elliot says media coverage of the shocking behavior exhibited by bath salts users has helped steer teenagers away from the drug. Use of synthetic drugs, including bath salts, started falling nationwide in 2012.