When Neil Brown got high on bath salts, he took his skinning knife and slit his face and stomach repeatedly. Brown survived, but authorities say others haven’t been so lucky after snorting, injecting or smoking powders labeled as bath salts.
The effects of the powders are as powerful as abusing methamphetamine, according to some law enforcement agents. Authorities and poison control centers say the bath salts are an emerging menace in several U.S. states, and some officials are trying to ban their sale.
They come with names such as Vanilla Sky, Ivory Wave and Ocean Burst.They’re called bath salts, but they provide anything but relaxation.Some people who have used them reported seeing aliens.One man who snorted the stuff holed up in an attic with a gun and said he was trying to kill the monsters before they killed his family.In Louisiana and Missouri, young men put guns to their heads and killed themselves.Poison control centers across the country, especially in Florida and the Southeast, are taking telephone calls from people who are experiencing dangerous reactions to the product available online or at convenience stores and specialty smoke shops. The stimulant causes a cocaine-like reaction for many users, who generally range from 16 to 30 years old.Cynthia Lewis-Younger, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, said 41 calls about bath salt exposures have been reported since August.”That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “There are a lot more exposures out there. I don’t think it’s safe to be out there on the street.”Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, agrees. On Wednesday, she announced an emergency rule banning bath salts.”Due to the violent nature of the side-effects in taking these drugs, the emergency rule will provide law enforcement with the tools necessary to take this dangerous substance off the shelves and protect the abusers from themselves as well as others,” Bondi said. “These are dangerous drugs that should not be confused with any type of common bath product.”That’s hogwash, says Randy Heine, owner of Rockin Cards and Gifts in Pinellas Park, which sells the powdery stuff to anyone older than 21.”You have one person who is going to tell a whole industry that they have to stop selling a product,” Heinesaid. “When I woke up this morning, I woke up in America. I thought we had due process here.”I would bet that Pam Bondi has no basis to back this up,” he added. “Did anyone die off the product? Did anyone get hurt? It’s up to her to prove that. I want to see the proof.”Officials say the proof is in the statistics and in emergency rooms across the country.In 2010, 234 phone calls involving bath salts were made to 57 poison control centers nationwide, saidJessica Wehrman of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In the first three weeks of 2011, 134 such calls have been made already.”We’re seeing it everywhere,” Wehrman said.Nowhere has it been more prevalent than Louisiana, where officials also moved to ban the substance after being inundated with problems. Florida ranks No. 2 behind Louisiana.The first call to poison control officials was Sept. 29, said Mark Ryan, director of Louisiana’s poison control center. Then they would get a call or two a day for a while.”It was almost like the floodgates started to open,” he said.There were nine calls alone on Christmas. Another 12 came on New Year’s Day.The youngest patient there was 14. The oldest was 64.”We are seeing bizarre symptoms in some of the patients,” Ryan said. “Their heart rate and blood pressure are elevated. They are extremely anxious. Some of them are almost in panic attacks.”Some of them are hallucinating,” he added. “They describe monsters, demons, aliens. They think people they know are trying to harm them.”Some users exhibit violent behavior. Police officers are encountering people packing guns and threatening to do harm to themselves or others after having snorted, smoked or swallowed the powder.”It’s scary stuff,” Ryan said.Heine, who plans a court challenge to the rule, says that is not the case at all. And he says it is nobody’s business what people do with the bath salts, which say on the label they are not designed for human consumption.”I don’t know and I don’t care,” he said.Heine just started to stock the product within the last 90 days, selling it for about $20 for two capsules.He plans to keep selling the bath salts until told otherwise, saying he has 30 days to keep doing so. Officials in the attorney general’s office said Wednesday, however, the ban went into effect immediately for the next 90 days. Bondi’s hope is that the Florida Legislature will enact a permanent ban.State officials in Mississippi and Kentucky are exploring doing the same.That doesn’t sit well with Heine.”Maybe they feel obligated to stop everyone from doing anything that makes them feel good,” Heine said. “People can get high off of nutmeg. People can get high off of paint. Why aren’t they banning those?”