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Specialty ’Bath Salts’ Linked to Hospitalizations, Suicides

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Alarming numbers of adolescents and others are ending up in emergency rooms and mental hospitals after using “fake cocaine” — a powder legally sold as bath salts, The Sacramento Bee reported Jan. 18.

The so-called bath salts are not common brands, but instead specially-made powders that are sold in convenience stores and specialty shops in half-gram bottles for about $25 to $30. Users snort them, smoke them, or inject them like cocaine to experience euphoria.

However, they can cause “paranoia, chest pains, and irregular heartbeats,” the Bee reported.

The salts are marketed all over the country, according to the Department of Justice. They have been linked to “dozens of hospital visits” in Florida in the past year and to two suicides. 

“We’re seeing teenagers experiment with this,” said the chief of emergency medicine at Florida’s Broward Health, Dr. Nabil El Sanadi. “They will do stuff that they wouldn’t normally do, like dive from a third-story window into a pool. It’s very, very dangerous.”

Some of the bath salts have been found to contain methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a central nervous system stimulant that is not approved for medical purposes in the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), MPDV can cause “intense panic attacks, psychosis and addiction.” Britain banned it in April 2010 when several people died after ingesting it. The DEA is studying it as a drug of concern, though it does not currently plan to outlaw it.

“It makes people lose touch with reality,” said Dr. Cynthia Lewis-Younger, who directs the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa. “They’re ending up in psychiatric institutions.”

Poison control centers across the country received 232 calls about the “bath salts” in 2010, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The incidence was highest in Louisiana. Its poison control center received 165 calls linked to the salts — or about 57 percent of all such calls nationally –  thetowntalk.com reported Jan. 7. The state’s governor, Bobby Jindal, banned MPDV and similar chemicals on Jan. 6. 

Two other states have also taken steps. North Dakota’s Board of Pharmacy banned MPDV and related chemicals, and legislation has already been put forward in Kentucky to outlaw MPDV.

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