BLUE HILL, Maine — Though the illegal drug known as bath salts has not become as pervasive in Hancock County as it has in the Bangor and Rockland areas, concerned residents, health care officials and others met Monday night at the local town office to talk about the drug.
Barbara Royal, director of Open Door Recovery Center in Ellsworth, told about 50 people at the meeting Monday that she has confirmed with state officials that in the past two months there have been nine cases in Hancock County of parents losing custody of their children because of bath salts abuse. There have been five other such cases in the county in which bath salts use has been suspected as a factor but not confirmed, she added.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, adding that she has been involved in substance abuse counseling for 30 years. “It’s like it takes [a user’s] soul away.”
Chris Thornton of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency said police found evidence of bath salts in Bar Harbor this past summer and police in Ellsworth found a woman on bath salts who thought she was a grizzly bear.
In April of this year, when he joined MDEA, Thornton had never heard of bath salts, he said.
“This is probably the biggest game-changer in law enforcement since I’ve been in [the field],” Thornton said, adding that he has been a police officer for 15 years.
Because bath salts users can experience severe hallucinations and adrenaline-caused surges of strength, he said, Hancock County sheriff’s deputies have been authorized to carry electric stun guns in case other methods of calming or subduing someone on bath salts prove ineffective. He said the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department also now sends more than one officer to respond to any complaint that might involve bath salts use.
Thornton played audio and video public service announcements about the drug and a YouTube video of a young man giggling and screaming on bath salts as he sits handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser.
Thornton said police have thought about what kind of effect a high-voltage stun gun could have on someone whose body temperature and heart rates are elevated, but said that someone running around hallucinating on bath salts already poses a danger to himself and to others in the vicinity. Police have an obligation to try to keep bath salts users from harm, he said, but also have a responsibility to protect others and to defend themselves.
“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” he said.
Rick Redmond of Acadia Hospital in Bangor said the drug does not rival alcohol’s reach in terms of the number of Mainers affected by substance abuse problems. The illicit use of opiate drugs such as prescription pills and heroin trail behind alcohol in this regard, he said, but still present serious health and law enforcement issues in the state.
“With opiate abuse, it’s easy to hide it over a long period of time,” Redmond said. “The crime rates are high with opiate addiction.”
But with bath salts, the phenomenon has come on so suddenly in Maine — just over the past six months or so — that there still is little clinical understanding of the drug’s effect on users, Redmond said.
The drug is known to cause severe hallucinations in people, with many suffering paranoid delusions about people trying to kill them, he said. It often causes people to heat up, which can lead them to strip off their clothing, and can spur surges of strength in people who get adrenaline rushes as part of their extreme paranoia, he added.
“These folks are at potential cardiac risk,” Redmond said. “People on bath salts can be psychotic.”
Officials at the meeting said that community involvement and vigilance can help prevent bath salts from becoming ingrained in rural Maine. People need to be aware of warning signs such as young people using drug nicknames or having drug paraphernalia. Royal said children should be educated about the dangers of doing drugs before someone else tries to get them to try drugs.
Thornton said people should report suspicious activity to police no matter how insignificant or pressing it might seem.
“It is not a waste of time,” Thornton said. “You can be anonymous.”
Information about suspected drug activity can be provided to MDEA by calling 800-452-6457 or by filling out an online information form at the MDEA website, http://www.maine.gov/dps/mdea/drugtip.html.