A rapid rise in the local police activity and hospitalizations related to the use of bath salts has led several local officials to sound the alarm about the substances adverse medical effects.
These substances are coming into Jefferson County in a very quick way, said Anita K. Seefried-Brown, program director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council.
Bath salts, classified as both synthetic cathinones and synthetic amphetamines, are currently legal and sold through online retailers and by a handful of retailers around the city. The substance can be snorted, injected or added to food or drinks.
Ms. Seefried-Brown compared the product to the worst elements of methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD, cocaine and PCP, and said users have been described as having paranoia, along with superhuman strength and an immunity from pain. She said the products have proven themselves to be highly addictive for users, even if they have nightmare experiences.
Similar to synthetic marijuana-like products, the substance is sold with a variety of different names, including screen cleaner, butterfly attractant and plant food, though health officials dispute their effectiveness for any of these listed uses. The products are labeled as not for human consumption.
They do not have any intended purposes other than to be abused, said Jeanna M. Marraffa, a clinical toxicologist for Upstate New York Poison Center.
The variety of names and the disclaimer allow it to slip past regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.
Its a totally insane approach to marketing something, Ms. Seefried-Brown said.
The products have been linked to several stories nationwide in the past few months, including reports of highly aggressive, violent and even cannibalistic activity.
They sound almost made up, Ms. Marraffa said. You think that cant be possible.
Also worrisome for health officials is the lack of knowledge of what chemicals make up the substance, and the chemical reactions it can draw from users.
To be honest, we dont have a good handle of the ingredients, Ms. Marraffa said. It can change from product to product and day to day.
Law enforcement can be at risk in responding to calls to aid users of the substance.
Once they get a call, they dont realize what theyre getting into, Ms. Seefried-Brown said.
Detective Sgt. Joseph R. Donoghue, a department spokesman, said calls regarding the substance were increasing and increasing.
Were kind of at a standstill, he said.
Frequently called over by a family member or other concerned residents, Sgt. Donoghue said officers work hard to attempt to calm down users, before taking them to medical facilities to be held until the substance is cleared from their system.
However, he noted, in two recent cases, users nearly died from the bath salts they consumed. One spent three or four days in Samaritan Medical Centers intensive care unit, while another was transferred from the hospital after staff was not able to improve his condition.
Responding to users of these substances has created a strain for Samaritan Medical Center, which reportedly faces five cases a day involving bath salt users.
Hospital spokeswoman Krista A. Kittle said that while the emergency room staff was trained to deal with agitated patients, admitting bath salt users brings a completely different level in terms of the violence.
The violence that seems to be associated with this is very new and very scary, Ms. Kittle said.
She said in some cases, staff members have been diverted from helping other patients in order to help stabilize bath salts users.
Sgt. Donoghue said he had hopes for new rules to slow their use.
As law enforcement, were looking for the law to be changed so we can go after some of these sellers, he said.
The issue has prompted action from legislators on both the state and national levels. New legislation passed June 27 by Congress and awaiting approval from the White House would make two chemicals used for making bath salts, along with 29 other chemicals used for making other synthetic drug products, illegal for sale and use.
However, Sgt. Donoghue noted the difficult challenge in keeping up with suppliers who he said were four or five generations ahead of regulations.
Theyre ahead of us in the game, he said.