BANGOR, Maine — A local man who admitted to snorting a new designer drug known on the streets as “bath salts” called police last week to complain about his television.
“The television was telling him to stop paying his mortgage, to stop paying his car bill, to send his money to some church, and he didn’t think it was legal,” Bangor police Officer Jason Stuart recalled Friday.
The man, whom police did not identify, gave Stuart the TV channel he was calling about, and the officer, thinking he was dealing with someone with a mental health problem, said he’d look into it.
Later that day, Officer Brian Smith was sent to the same man’s home because he “just went crazy” after continuing to snort the drug throughout the day, the patrolman recalled Friday.
“This isn’t Bed, Bath & Beyond bath salts,” Smith said. “It is just how they are marketing it.”
He said the so-called “bath salts” are dangerous synthetic stimulants that look like cocaine and have similar effects but can cause people to lose their minds and sometimes become suicidal.
“Snorting it gives you more of a cocaine high feel … [and] an excessive amount is equal to a crystal meth high,” Smith said, referring to methamphetamine.
Only a month ago the two Bangor officers first began hearing people on the streets talking about bath salts.
“In the last week or so I started to deal with it,” Smith said.
The synthetic stimulant is sold at convenience stores and head shops all over the country under at least 24 different names, such as Arctic Blast, Ivory White, Snow Day and Cloud 9. The packages sold in stores are labeled “not for human consumption” and sometimes are labeled as plant fertilizer.
A quick survey of the head shops and tobacco stores in the Bangor area found none selling the drug over the counter, but because it’s sold online, it has turned up in the Queen City, Smith and Stuart said.
“This is happening right here in Bangor,” Stuart said. “They are telling us they are using Cloud 9.”
In Bangor, police have found the “bath salts” are most often individually packaged into 1-inch plastic baggies — just like cocaine and other illicit drugs — and sometimes are marked with symbols, including aliens, skulls or comic book characters. They sell for $30 to $35 a bag.
Police across the country — and now in Bangor — have reported signs of paranoia, hallucinations, convulsions and psychotic episodes in users of the lab-made crystal powder.
“We’ve talked to some [users] who said, ‘I was convinced things were out to get me,’” Stuart said. “The paranoia is causing people to arm themselves. It’s scary.”
The fake bath salts usually contain mephedrone or Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, manmade chemicals that block neurotransmitters in the the brain and can stop it from making dopamine, which controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, issued a warning to people, especially parents, about the newest synthetic drug to hit the streets.
“We know they pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of young people and anyone who may use them,” he said in press release posted in February on his office’s website.
The number of people calling poison control centers around the country after consuming “bath salts” has more than doubled in the last year, putting officials on alert. An American Association of Poison Control Centers press release issued Feb. 24 states that in the first two months of this year, 639 people called about the synthetic stimulant, more than double the 297 figure from all of 2010. In 2009, there were no reported cases in the United States.
Two states, Louisiana and Florida, already have banned mephedrone, MDPV and similar synthetic drugs, and six others are working toward making them illegal. Maine is not among them. The United Kingdom, Ireland and other European countries also have banned the substances.
Emergency room staff and law enforcement officers from around the state have contacted the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency about “bath salts,” said Darrell Crandall, the MDEA’s Division 2 commander.
“They’re concerned about it,” he said Friday. Since the drugs are not illegal, when a person overdoses, “it would be considered a poisoning,” Crandall said.
Users mostly snort the drug, but it also can be smoked, eaten or injected. It is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration because it is not marketed for human consumption.
The extreme paranoia brought on by the drug has led consumers to do some crazy things, the two Bangor officers said, telling stories they have heard about a woman in Florida who overdosed and tried to cut off her 71-year-old mother’s head with a machete, thinking she was out to get her. In Louisiana, a 21-year-old man who took the stimulant “slit his throat in front of his father and then shot himself,” Smith said.
And just like the methamphetamines they are designed to mimic, “bath salts” produce cravings that are very strong. The man who overdosed on bath salts last week in Bangor told Stuart that he’s done a lot of drugs in his life, and none hooked him as quickly.
“His opinion is that it’s highly addictive,” the officer said. “He [said it] was more addictive than anything he’s used.”
Smith said the paranoia experienced by users sometimes lasts for days. “It’s not just until its out of your system,” he noted.
Both officers warned parents to keep an eye out for small baggies or slick-looking bath salt packaging.
“It’s just so new, we’re trying to play catch-up,” Smith said. “We want to get this [information] out to people so they have an understanding of the dangers.”
“I think that any reasonable kid — even if they like to get high — when they see people cutting their throats, will stay away from it,” Stuart said. “It’s got trouble written all over it.”