BUCKSPORT, Maine — The illicit synthetic stimulant known as “bath salts” has been wreaking havoc in communities all around Bucksport, and police say that it is just a matter of time before it — and all of its problems — arrives in town.
“I’ve been a law enforcement officer for 15 years, and this is probably the biggest game-changer I’ve seen,” Chris Thornton of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency said Thursday night at a public forum on bath salts.
More than 80 people attended the forum, which was held at the performing arts center at the Bucksport Middle School. The men, women, teens and children in the room learned about the designer drug, which was legal in many states until quite recently.
Bath salts are composed of chemicals which mimic cocaine, Ecstasy and methamphetamines, according to a panel of experts. They’re marketed under names that include “Ivory Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Monkey Dust,” and “Bliss,” but there’s not much blissful about the extremely addictive and dangerous stimulant, according to Dr. Daniel Reinke of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital.
He described a relentless cycle that begins when a user first snorts, smokes or otherwise ingests the drug. First up is euphoria and a feeling of invincibility.
“People go for that rush,” he said. “That rush is instantly addictive.”
But when a user begins to crash, they land hard and “worse off” than before, he said. This is when people become extremely paranoid and agitated.
“They end up on the roofs of their house, trying to escape. They see purple spiders crawling all over the walls,” Reinke said. “It just is bad, bad stuff.”
Their hearts race, their body temperature rises, they may lose control of their bowels. They can have hallucinations, fits, nosebleeds and panic attacks. They may suddenly have a kind of superstrength, and when they land in his emergency room, Reinke said, there’s no clear treatment template. Instead, his staff just plies them with tranquilizers — 10 and 20 times the dosage that normally would send people to sleep.
“It’s a sad cycle,” he told the people in the room. “I hope none of you will ever start.”
Although the general age range of users is between 25 and 55, recently doctors have begun to see younger patients who have inadvertently had bath salts sprinkled on other drugs, including marijuana.
Bucksport Police Chief Sean Geagan said that surrounding agencies are dealing with four or five bath salts-related calls a day.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” he said of Bucksport, which remains incident-free so far. “It’s here, it’s coming, and we’re just waiting, basically.”
Thornton said that although bizarre incidents connected to bath salts have been making newspaper headlines around Maine, and despite Bangor’s notoriety as “ground zero” for the epidemic, it’s not the end of the world.
“The apocalypse isn’t upon us,” he said.
Formerly, the drug was sold in Maine in attractive packages, but since being made illegal, it is being sold in small plastic bags that often are marked with graphics. The price for bath salts has gone up, too — once $10 a gram, the drug is now $80 to $100 a gram.
Thornton also linked the increased price to a jump in crimes, such as theft.
Lots of people had questions for the panel, including a woman who wanted to know whether bath salts are the most dangerous drug.
“It’s the most harmful, psychotic drug I’ve seen in 22 years,” Geagan answered.
When one man asked how to respond to people suspected of being on bath salts, officials said that it’s best not to contradict their delusions.
“Common Sense 101: Establish rapport with them,” Thornton said. “If he’s violent, I don’t have an answer for that. It’s basically self-preservation at that point.”
Several of the people in the audience said that they came to arm themselves with knowledge about the drug.
Attendee Lesa Gross of Orland said after the session that she brought her 10-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son because she knows the drug is out there.
“I made sure these two came so that they have knowledge, and knowledge is what?” she asked her son, Dakota.
“Knowledge is the best thing you can ever have,” he replied.
Dakota said that the evening was worthwhile.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned that bath salts was a really bad thing.”