Bath salts use tied to three Bangor-area deaths, hospital officials say

Posted Jan. 02, 2012, at 12:15 p.m.

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Jonnathan Busko
Jonnathan Busko
James Raczek
James Raczek

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor police announced in July that a local man high on bath salts died at Eastern Maine Medical Center, and hospital officials now are saying others who snorted, smoked, injected or otherwise consumed the synthetic drug last year also succumbed to it.

“We’ve had deaths from this,” Dr. Jonnathan Busko, an emergency room doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center, said of the street drug that has gripped the Queen City for nearly a year. “Three in the Bangor area are associated with bath salts.”

For privacy reasons, the ER doctor — who has treated dozens of people on bath salts — could not give specifics about the deaths related to the white powdery stimulant and hallucinogenic drug.

Bangor was at the epicenter of the state’s first bath salts use. The drug surfaced there in February but is now found in all corners of the state. Knox County, especially the Rockland area, where users call the drug “Rave-on,” has seen an explosion, police and hospital staff say.

Only one of the Bangor-area deaths actually happened at the hospital, said Dr. James Raczek, vice president and chief medical officer of EMMC.

“We had one patient who died at the jail and was resuscitated at the jail and brought here and died,” Busko explained.

That person was in a state of excited delirium, caused by the concoction of man-made stimulants and other drugs in the bath salts he consumed, the ER doctor said.

Ralph E. Willis, 32, was delusional when he was found running around and yelling at people on Center Street on July 22, Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said at the time.

“He said he was on [bath salts] and needed to get off them,” the sergeant said.

Willis was charged with disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and refusing to submit to arrest. He was taken to jail but didn’t stay long, Troy Morton, chief deputy of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, said at the time.

“He was acting paranoid and delusional when he was interacting with staff and was yelling at staffers,” Morton said. Intake officers felt Willis should be evaluated at a local hospital and called Bangor police to transport him to EMMC.

Bangor police called for assistance from a Bangor Fire Department ambulance crew, which took Willis to the medical center just after 8 p.m., Edwards said. Willis died at the hospital at around 9:40 p.m.

An autopsy was performed on Willis’ body in July but is so far inconclusive due to pending toxicology test results.

Mark Belserene, office administrator for the state medical examiner’s office, said last month that the toxicology tests are back on Willis, but “the death certificate hasn’t been finalized yet.”

A representative from the medical examiner’s office said Friday that the investigation into Willis’ death remains open.

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