Toxic Relaxation: Bath salts epidemic sweeps through Central New York

Local authorities try to keep up with the rapidly growing popularity of new, highly toxic synthetic drug.

The use of the synthetic neurotoxic drug “bath salts” has reached epidemic proportions in Central New York, according to an addictions expert with over 30 years experience in the field.

“This drug scares me more than any other drug I’ve seen,” said Dr. Elizabeth Berry, a clinical psychologist at Crouse Hospital's Chemical Dependency Treatment Services, in a presentation at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications on July 18. “It’s awfully toxic.”

According to Berry, Crouse treats between one and five patients presenting symptoms of bath salts, including extreme paranoid behavior, agitation, respiratory distress and skyrocketing body temperatures every day. The Upstate New York Poison Center has seen a 1300 percent increase in bath salts cases in the last year, she said.

Several prominent cases in recent weeks illustrate the drug’s rapid expansion in the region. In June, a woman from Munsville, N.Y., died in police custody after she attacked her 3-year-old son and her dog while high on the drug. An Oriskany Falls man believed to be on bath salts was arrested on July 14 for the second time in five days after exhibiting erratic and violent behavior. Five deaths in Onondaga and Oneida counties have been linked to the drug since May, according to The Post-Standard.

Colorful packaging, benign names like “Mr. Nice Guy” and affordability combine to make the drug a particularly attractive product to youth, Berry said. “(Young people) is really where their market is,” she said. “They’ve had cases with kids as young as 11 years old.”

While social media sites have raised awareness, sellers are able use the same sites to provide easy access to their customers, said Berry. A single package might cost $14.99 normally, but an online coupon from a Facebook page may bring it down to $9.99 or even less if bought in bulk.

Bath Salts packetThese factors expose customers to a product that carries significant risks of overdose. A single dose should amount to 10 milligrams, while packages contain between 250 to 500 milligrams each. Young users are particularly unlikely to notice that distinction, said Berry.

“The first time you use it, you’re going to overdose on it. There is no safe way to use this drug,” she said. “If you overdose on it, then you see the nightmare stories.”

People under the influence of bath salts feel no pain, experience delusions and paranoia and tend to be very violent. Prolonged use of the drug may actually change the neurological wiring of the brain, she said, but long-term effects are currently unknown.

Berry believes that the drug’s quick spread has worked against those trying to limit its use. While people may have heard dozens of horror stories about methamphetamine use on the local or national news or television shows like “Breaking Bad,” bath salts have only recently entered into the public’s consciousness.

“I’m really trying hard to put the word out that this drug is here. I think the only way that it’s going to stop is by people making an informed decision not to use it,” Berry said. “And people are getting scared.”

Photo by Victoria Kezra.

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