A Miami police official has speculated that bath salts were behind the bizarre May 26 incident in which a 31-year-old man allegedly tore off the clothes of a homeless man under a highway and ripped off parts of his face. Toxicology reports have not been released on the attacker, who had to be shot at least five times by police trying to stop the assault, according to The Miami Herald.
Unlike cocaine or heroin, bath salts are synthetic stimulants that contain various chemical compounds. Emergency rooms and poison centers report that overdoses have caused problems ranging from paranoia to hallucinations. It is unclear how addictive the bath salts are.
“We had people telling us: ‘This is the worst thing I ever did, but the cravings were so intense that I used it for eight days straight,’ ” says Louisiana Poison Center Director Mark Ryan, who in 2010 was one of the first doctors to document the surge in cases.
Until recent months, the drug was legal in most states, widely available in tobacco shops or convenience stores, sold under other names like Ivory Wave or Vanilla Sky and coming in various shapes and forms. When it was still legal, a person could buy for $20 to $40 a small Ziploc bag or matchbox-sized container with powder or crystals that “smells like old feet,” Dr. Ryan says, and get a high that would otherwise cost, for example, $2,000 worth of cocaine.
“The packaging would say something like ‘DEA Compliant’ or ‘Not for Human Consumption. If Consumed Call the Poison Control Center,’ ” he says. “It was almost like the manufacturer was thumbing their nose at us.”
Now, at least 38 states have passed some sort of ban or restriction, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration has put three bath salt compounds on its emergency ban list. The US Senate on May 24 passed the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, which puts a handful of chemical compounds used in bath salts in the most restrictive category of controlled substances.