BANGOR, Maine — Anne Buzzell said her husband began using “bath salts” at the beginning of June and in just a few weeks the synthetic stimulants and hallucinogenic drugs changed him into something she didn’t recognize.
“He hasn’t been my husband since he started doing them and it’s only been a short while,” she said Saturday, while sitting on her couch with two small children nearby. “In the last two weeks, he’s lost [20 pounds] and his eyes aren’t his eyes.”
She is warning people to stay away from bath salts, which surfaced on the streets of Bangor back in February, and is asking state Legislators and the governor to make the drug illegal. One form of bath salts sold in the Queen City is called “monkey dust,” but it is sold under dozens of names.
Her husband, Christopher M. Buzzell, 27, is the first person in Bangor to be charged with operating under the influence of bath salts, after he led police on a high speed chase, crashed and ended up standing in the Penobscot River on June 21 in “an elevated state of excitement and confusion,” unable to follow simple commands.
Buzzell “stated that he took ‘bath salts,’ and told me that they should be illegal,” Bangor police Officer Kyle Pelkey said in his report.
“Overnight he changed,” Anne Buzzell said of her husband of two years. “The problem was the bath salts. It took over.”
Local police, doctors and emergency responders have reported signs of paranoia, hallucinations, convulsions and psychotic episodes in users of the lab-made crystal powder.
Dr. Andrew Ehrhard, an emergency room doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center, said last week that he alone is seeing an overdose every week or so but he added he also is seeing people asking for help.
“People are using it and they are coming in seeking help,” he said. “I do have a lot of people asking for rehab and detox from it. I actually touched bases with Acadia [Hospital], and a rough estimate is 3 or 4 patients a week [are being admitted]. That is people who are bad enough to require a psychiatric evaluation.”
Bangor police Detective Sgt. Paul Kenison said people who are using and abusing any drugs and who want help should see a health care profession first.
“If you feel you’ve got a drug addiction you should start by going to the hospital and asking for help,” he said Saturday. “There are different treatment programs available.”
Anne Buzzell said she wrote to Gov. Paul LePage asking that he endorse a bill under consideration by the Legislature that would make possessing or selling bath salts illegal.
The Maine House of Representatives on June 10 endorsed LD 1562, an “Act to Prohibit the Sale or Possession of So-called Bath Salts Containing Dangerous Synthetic Drugs,” which would make it illegal to possess or sell any of 21 different hallucinogenic drugs or stimulants or any combination of them. The senate is scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday.
Several states already have banned mephedrone, MDPV and similar synthetic drugs, and other states are working to make them illegal. The United Kingdom, Ireland and other European countries also have banned the substances.
“It’s a community issue, a Maine issue and a national issue,” Anne Buzzell said.
In addition to making bath salts illegal, support services should to be set up now for those already suffering from the effects of the drugs, Anne Buzzell said.
The Buzzells both knew that Chris Buzzell was in trouble so they attempted to seek help at the emergency room of a Bangor hospital four days before he was caught driving under the influence of drugs.
Hospital staff sent him away with an appointment for an intensive outpatient substance abuse day program that started the following week at Acadia Hospital, his wife said.
“He went to get help on Friday and they turned him away,” she said, adding, “It was very hard for him to go in there and ask for help. This is a problem. It’s a big problem.”
Anne Buzzell also called the Office of Substance Abuse last week and a representative at that agency told her they “didn’t know what to do because it’s not an illegal substance,” she said. “People need to know where to get help.”
When people overdose on bath salts, which are often individually packaged in 1-inch plastic bags — just like cocaine and other illicit drugs — it is considered a poisoning.
The fake bath salts usually contain mephedrone or Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, man-made chemicals that block neurotransmitters in the brain and can stop it from making dopamine, which controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
After being stopped by police, Chris Buzzell told Pelkey that he was having a “bad trip” when he was stopped last week. He said he was at his home at around 4 a.m. when he began to hallucinate.
“Buzzell stated that he was seeing things and thought he hear people coming up the stairs to get him” so he took off in his wife’s vehicle and while driving “thought he was being followed.”
Buzzell, who told police he injects the bath salts, said “that it is an instant rush, or a ‘Utopia,’” Pelkey’s report states, but once he comes down “one wants to use the ‘bath salts’ again.
“Buzzell said that if one does not completely sober up before using ‘bath salts’ again, one will experience a bad trip,” the police report states. “That is where the hallucinations and paranoia begin.”
His wife tells a different story. She said he “was not a happy person doing it. My observation was he was paranoid and hallucinating” whenever he was using.
Buzzell was charged with four crimes including felony eluding an officer as well as operating under the influence of drugs, driving to endanger and failure to report an accident. He remained in Penobscot County Jail on Sunday.
Anne Buzzell said she first noticed a problem with her husband shortly after he began using bath salts and he started going out at odd hours.
“It wasn’t his normal behavior,” she said. “Bath salts took over. They need to be made illegal and we need to learn how to treat [users].”
Anne Buzzell added that even though her husband is incarcerated she is staying positive because she knows her husband is a good guy who just took the wrong path.
“I love my husband and I want him back but I want him healthy and whole,” she said. “He needs help. My husband has a glow in his eyes and bath salts took that glow away.”