Cause for Concern: “Bath Salts” as a New Drug of Abuse

The following is a guest post from Marissa Salvo, Pharm.D. Assistant Clinical Professor, University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy Clinical Pharmacist, Community Health Center, Inc. Meriden

Recently, I had my oil changed at the local auto shop. While there, one of the employees started talking with me about recent local news. He addressed the upcoming elections, a major accident on the highway, destruction of headstones at a local cemetery, and then he discussed the robbery of his home. I didn’t know what I could possibly say to show my deepest concern. He stated that the individual who broke into his home was high on “bath salts.”  “Bath salts?” I asked.  He replied, “Yeah, that’s the new things kids are ‘doing’ these days to get high.” I was quite surprised to hear this! As a pharmacist, I need to be aware of drugs of abuse so I can appropriately answer questions and educate others; so, I decided to investigate.

“Bath salts” contain chemicals such as mephedrone, MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone), or pyrovalerone, which are amphetamine-like compounds made in a lab.1 Recreational abuse occurs through smoking, snorting, or injecting the substance. Doing so can cause cardiac, neurological, and/or psychological symptoms, such as increased blood pressure or heart rate, chest pain, agitation, tremors, euphoria, hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. In addition, the stimulant effect results in high abuse and addiction potential with reported intense cravings.2

Unfortunately, “bath salts” are unregulated, inexpensive ($25-50 for a 50 milligram packet), and readily available for purchase at convenience stores, gas stations, truck stops, tattoo parlors, and on the internet, among other locations.1 “Bath Salts” circumvent detection by authorities due to the phrase “not for human consumption” found on the label, and often reports the product is “plant food” or “pond water cleaner.”3 The product has numerous brand names, including, but not limited to “Blue Sky,” “Blizzard,” “Cloud Nine,” “White Lightening,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Zoom,” “Ivory Wave,” “Red Dove,” and “Scarface.”1 

A recent ABC News report demonstrates the seriousness of “bath salt” abuse. A young man in Louisiana snorted the substance, endured 3 days of delirium, cut his throat, and later shot himself. While this is one incident, the rest of the country is not free from this problem, reporting similar incidents.4 Through the first part of this year, poison control centers in 45 states and Washington D.C. reported calls related to “bath salts.”  In addition by April 2011, centers received five times the call volume regarding “bath salts” compared to all of 2010.3 These numbers are alarming!

While states propose legislation to place “bath salts” on the Schedule 1 controlled substance list and remove access, parents, teachers, health care workers, law enforcement, and the general public need to be aware of the severity of this issue. Education on the risks associated with “bath salt” use or early identification of abusers, are critical to avoid long-term complications on individuals and society.

  1. “Increasing Abuse of Bath Salts.” Drug Alert Watch. U.S. Department of Justice Web site. http://www.justice.gov/ndic/pubs43/43474/sw0007p.pdf. Accessed May 20, 2011. 
  2. “Message from the Director on ‘Bath Salts’- Emerging and Dangerous Products.” National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site. http://www.drugabuse.gov/about/welcome/MessageBathSalts211.html. Accessed May 20, 2011. 
  3. “Emergency Department Visits After Use of a Drug Sold as ‘Bath Salts’- Michigan, November 13, 2010- March 31, 2011.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2011;60(19):624-627.
  4. Byrd S. “Officials: ‘Bath Salts’ Are Growing Drug Problem.” abc News Web site. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wirestory?id=12738043. Accessed May 20, 2011. 

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