Louisiana Criminalizes Bath Salts

Louisiana Criminalizes Bath Salts

Today I’m posting an article I wrote for The Tulane Hullabaloo which appeared in the print edition on February 18, 2011.  In February, I interviewed the state health officer and medical director of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the director of Louisiana Poison Control, and an emergency room doctor at Tulane Hospital about what was then a drug trend emerging in Louisiana and spreading throughout the country.  Recently, on July 13, Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill criminalizing bath salts.  Louisiana’s DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said in a press release, “Banning these substances permanently is an important step to protecting our young people from their deadly effects.”  Awareness is also an important step to protecting ourselves, so today’s post is for the young adults who may not know.

New drug trend comes in form of bath salts

Dickie Sanders, a twenty-one-year-old from Covington, La. snorted a packet of Cloud 9 “bath salts” in November 2010. After several days of hallucinations and paranoia, Sanders killed himself.

Sanders’ story made national news and brought attention to a new drug problem that has emerged in the United States, particularly in Louisiana. With names like Cloud 9, Ivory Snow, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky, one would never know that these “bath salts,” often found on convenience store shelves, are some of the most dangerous drugs on the market. Though labeled and sold as bath salts, these substances are nothing like what you find at the spa.

James Moises, an emergency room doctor at Tulane Hospital, has seen several cases of bath salt intoxications.

“They are pretty bizarre,” Moises said. “You know these people are on something way different than what we’ve seen before. The psychosis and delusions are just huge.”

The bath salts are highly addictive, even after one use. The cravings for the drug are so intense that users binge on the drug for several days before arriving at the hospital. After being released from the hospital, some immediately start using again.

The bath salt problem in Louisiana began when the state poison control office received their first call in September 2010. The calls began to escalate, with four calls in October, 21 calls in November and 109 calls in December.

“In November we started to question how widespread this actually was,” Louisiana Poison Control Director Mark Ryan said. “We started to look nationally and realized it was mainly us.”

In fact, last year 135 of the 237 total national calls to poison control centers came from Louisiana. Investigations suggest that there were large distributing operations in Louisiana. The drugs arrived from China in large quantities and were repackaged and sold as phony bath salts.

When ingested, these faux bath salts can have intense effects, even to the most experienced drug abusers. Hallucinations, paranoia and suicidal thoughts are some of the most common experiences. Ryan describes bath salts as one of the worst drugs he has seen.

“If you combine the worst adverse effects from several drugs — the hallucinations of LSD, the combativeness of PCP, the delusions of ecstasy, the severe anxiety and stimulation of crystal meth and cocaine — this is what you see with bath salts,” Ryan said. “It’s like being hit by a Mack truck. This stuff hits people hard.”

Though the documented ages of users have ranged from 14 to 64, a majority of users have been between 20 and 25, making it an issue for college students.

Governor Bobby Jindal issued an emergency rule Jan. 6 to outlaw six chemical compounds known to be components of bath salts. This type of emergency ruling for the ban of a drug is the first of its kind in Louisiana. Following Louisiana’s lead, other states have issued similar bans. Bath salts continue to be an escalating problem, however. Poison control centers across the nation received 237 calls in 2010, but in January 2011 there were a total of 283 calls.

James Guidry, state health officer and medical director of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said he is concerned about the impact such bans may have on the allure of bath salts, especially to young college-aged adults.

“Sometimes banning something makes people want to try to get it, and many times it’s replaced by something worse,” Guidry said. “For us to ban this, it’s because we felt like it doesn’t get much worse. Our message is we don’t want you to go try to find this stuff, this is much worse than chemicals you may have tried in the past. It is serious stuff.”



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