Bath salts and other synthetic drugs present a serious problem for law enforcement, medical personnel, and others who deal with the consequences of drug abuse. The tremendous response to the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children’s (National DEC) recent webinar, “An Overview of Bath Salts and Other Synthetic Drugs from Law Enforcement and Medical Perspectives,” is indicative of the growing concern about these drugs. More than 1,100 practitioners from all over the country registered for the webinar, to gain an overview of this dangerous drug trend. The speakers were William Benson, Assistant Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Trey King, an investigator with the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office; and Dr. Sullivan Smith, Medical Director of the Regional Medical Center in Cookeville, Tennessee. Robert Cooper, Tennessee’s State Attorney General, provided some details about the statewide response to this challenge.
In the webinar, the experts provided information about synthetic drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana. They discussed how these drugs are manufactured and distributed, how to identify them, and the dangers associated with them. They also discussed how law enforcement is combating the problem and provided a brief overview of legislation targeting these drugs.
The webinar covered issues such as the fact that the drugs currently being marketed as bath salts or plant food (though they are neither) are synthetic cathinones. They are labeled as “not for human consumption” in an effort to avert laws and regulations. They are chemically similar to cathinone, a Schedule 1 controlled substance that occurs naturally in the khat plant. Cathinones are central nervous system stimulants that have an effect similar to amphetamines. They are usually dispersed in powdered form or single-component capsules and are ingested, inhaled, injected, smoked, or snorted. They may even be applied directly to any mucus membrane by placing drops in the eye or spraying a solution in the nose.
The use of cathinones causes a euphoric high with a rush similar to that of cocaine, ecstasy, or methamphetamine. They act as an appetite suppressant while giving the user the feeling of more energy. For these reasons, some high school and college students use cathinones because they believe it is beneficial for work or studying.
There is much to learn about the effects of these drugs, but common side effects include a fast heart rate, high blood pressure, dilated pupils, high temperature, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, violence, seizures, and in some cases, death. There have also been reports of permanent brain damage from these drugs.
Dr. Smith expressed the concerns of the medical community and indicated that there is no antidote for these drugs. Instead, supportive care and treatment involves lots of sedation and fluids, temperature monitoring and active cooling, and blood pressure control with beta blockers.
One of the disturbing trends revealed in the webinar is that, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, calls to poison control centers in reference to exposure to “bath salts” increased from 303 cases in 2010 to 4,137 cases nationwide in the first 7 months of 2011 (an increase of more than 1,300 percent).
Another category of synthetic drugs discussed in the webinar are synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of marijuana. Dried plant materials treated with synthetic cannabinoids are sold under various brand names and are passed off as “herbal incense” or “potpourri” throughout the United States. These products are also labeled as not for human consumption and are generally sold in 1-, 3-,
5-, or 10-gram packages in retail establishments such as adult book and novelty stores, independently owned convenience stores/gas stations, discount beer and tobacco stores, and head shops. These products, as well as their raw chemical components, are also sold on many Internet sites, including popular auction sites such as eBay and Google. Three-gram package prices range from $5 to $50 and Internet retailers offer discounts for bulk purchases. More than 200 different synthetic cannabinoids have been identified by law enforcement in Tennessee.
Another drug being observed is called “Cosmic Blast,” a new synthetic drug marketed as jewelry cleaner that is sold on the Internet and now available at some retail stores in the United States. Cosmic Blast reportedly contains two highly dangerous stimulants that act like ecstasy.
Dozens of photos are included in the webinar materials, featuring packages of bath salts and synthetic cannabinoids. The marketing of these drugs includes using familiar colors and brand names such as “Tutti Frutti” herbal incense or “Charley Sheene” bath powder.
The webinar, which was held on December 14, 2011, is part of a monthly series of issue-based webinars hosted by National DEC, a COPS Office grantee. Other recent webinars include “Law Enforcement Perspectives on Building a Local DEC Collaborative;” “Prescription Drug Abuse: Trends and Consequences;” and “Tribal Law Enforcement and DEC.” These webinars, along with more than 40 others, are available for download on National DEC’s website on the Training Downloads page. To register for future webinars, sign up for National DEC’s mailing list at www.nationaldec.org.