The New York Times recently published an article that told of a man in Pennsylvania who broke into a monastery and stabbed a priest, a woman who cut into her skin for several days, believing there to be something underneath and a man who jumped off of a flagpole into oncoming traffic. “Yes, it is quite a crazy world we live in and these things do happen,” you may be thinking to yourself. There is something peculiar, however, hidden behind each of these incidents. All three of these people, at the time of their bizarre happenings, were high on a drug colloquially known as ‘bath salts’ and were therefore (with the exception of the man who stabbed the priest) perfectly compliant with the law. How could this be? How could a substance that many now consider the most dangerous drug in the world be federally legal, both to produce and consume? Society is, at times, paradoxical.
Although its origin dates back to 2004, bath salts’ popularity in the United States has only recently started snowballing. Poison centers across the nation received a total of 303 calls regarding bath salts during 2010. In the first half of 2011, this had risen to 3,740. Despite efforts from the media and law enforcement, these numbers are rising quickly and experts anticipate them to breach 5,000 by the end of the year. These statistics speak a bitter truth: that bath salts consumption is dangerous and on the rise.
Bath salts are marketed under various names such as ‘Ivory Wave’, ‘Vanilla Sky’, ‘Blue Magic’, ‘Gold Rush’ and ‘Ocean’. All varieties contain a very powerful stimulant called Methylenedioxyprovalerone (MDPV), although each brand has a unique mixture of chemicals. DEA official Gary Bogg put it well, saying, “You don’t know what is in the particular product that you’re using.” Consumers are not only oblivious to the ingredients, but often to the salts’ effects and dangers. One user, who we will call Mr. Z, explained how he thought that the bath salts “couldn’t be that bad since they were legal.” Mr. Z later reported feeling “really paranoid, like something was out to get me.”
The side effects are alarming and include, but are certainly not limited to, insomnia, increased heart rate, dizziness, psychotic hallucinations and extreme anxiety. Bath salts are also seriously addictive. Director of the San Diego Poison Control System, Lee Cantrell, explained, “They appear to induce more of a craving for re-dosing than other stimulants”. Many users say that it takes but one ‘trip’ to become hooked for years. Additionally, the comedown is harsh, and typically includes severe depression, sometimes to the point of suicide. One user described his MDPV comedown, saying that “Coming off of MDPV is like winning a Mercedes and being told at the last minute that they got your name wrong”.
A relevant question is where are bath salts coming from? Like most other products, they are produced and sold by a firm, whose objective – in this case their sole objective – is to make a profit. For all companies, profit equals revenue minus costs. For bath salts producers, revenues are high. As with many other drugs, a gram is sold at an inflated rate, usually between $50 to $100. However, production costs are relatively low. Apart from factories and intermediate goods, the only costs these firms incur are paying a team of chemists, marketers and distributers. The men and women behind these firms may not be criminals, but they are certainly immoral.
Bath salts are obviously harmful and potentially lethal. Around half of our states have indeed illegalized them and others are planning to follow suit. They are still federally legal, however, and over 20 states have yet to take official action. Our most salient question remains: How could this be? Part of the answer is simple. Since bath salts are comparatively new and controlling a substance is a lengthy, legislative process, it is merely bad timing. The DEA and FDA need more time. They will eventually illegalize bath salts. Mr. Cantrell explained, “Illicit drug manufacturing is a constantly moving target, which makes it quite difficult to regulate or control. I know that there are wheels turning right now, in California, to try to outlaw certain classes of these chemicals rather than going after individual compounds.” The other part of the answer is more complex. Because federally controlling a drug takes so much time and skillful chemists can quickly alter formulas, many fear this may become a perpetual problem. Bath salts manufacturers are abusing legal loopholes because they can. The only long-term solution to this sort of problem would be for the government to change its bureaucratic process, which may not be realistic. The best active solution to this problem is to be intelligent and stay away from this synthetic evil. DEA representative, Rusty Payne, wisely stated, “Just because something is not illegal, does not mean it’s safe.”
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