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August 02, 2011

Not Your Granny's Bath Salts

Drug users across the country are going crazy — literally — over bath salts, and Vermont druggies could soon join the trend.

No, today's stoners aren't desperately seeking a high from Calgon: "Bath salts" is the street name for mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, a powdery substance said to have effects similar to cocaine or methamphetamines, only more so.

Bath salts, which can be smoked, snorted or injected, produce a high lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours. The drug, still legal in Vermont, also produces some nasty side effects, including suicidal depression, manic behavior, delusions and violence.

It can be difficult to bring a bath salts user back from the brink, said Karen Simone, director of the Northern New England Poison Center. There's no simple, specific antidote available to hospital emergency room personnel. Medical workers "have to administer high doses of sedatives and sometimes anti-psychotics as well," Simone explained. In cases where bath salts experiments have gone totally amok, "you may have to put people into a light coma," she added.

Only a few cases of bath salts use have been reported in Vermont so far. They've "been seen" here, said Lt. Paul Favreau, the southern supervisor for the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force. "However, we don’t believe that it is a widespread problem." Fletcher Allen spokesman Mike Noble offered a similar assessment, saying ER docs at the Burlington medical center have encountered "very little" in the way of bath salts emergencies. Noble noted, though, that patients exhibiting acute reactions to one substance or another may not be forthright in indicating what they've ingested.

Bath salts can be readily purchased online, but apparently not from "glass" shops in Burlington. A worker answering the phone at Northern Lights on Main Street said the store doesn't sell them. Asked if she knew where in Vermont they could be bought, she replied, "I have no idea, dude."

In parts of Maine as well as in a number of other states, bath salts have become the drug du jour. Simone, whose poison-response center is based in Portland, reported that the center has received 87 calls from Maine medical providers or individuals trying to cope with bath salts-induced crises. As of early August, only four such inquiries had come from Vermont, she added.

Those statistics do not reflect the total number of bath salts emergencies, Simone cautioned. "Once a provider knows how to deal with it, they probably wouldn't call us again," she said.

Bath salts have been outlawed in Maine and in at least 28 other states. And Sen. Patrick Leahy is pushing for a federal law that would list them as a "Schedule 1 drug," a category that includes substances judged to have the highest abuse potential. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, voted unanimously last Thursday in favor of legislation banning bath salts.

And here I thought that the cheeseburger had the highest abuse potential of any legal substance.

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