New Bern, NC – INTRO - A new designer drug being sold legally in the state has prompted a recent spate of emergency room visits of intoxicated users at Pitt County Memorial Hospital. George Olsen has more.
The name of the drug sounds pretty innocuous "bath salts," sold under such names as Ivory Wave or Vanilla Sky.
"And in fact they're designer drugs related to cocaine and amphetamines with similar toxicity and intoxication and also unfortunately similar adverse reactions and side effects and potential for overdoses."
Dr. William Meggs, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician practicing at Pitt County Memorial Hospital. The emergency room there has started to see cases of bath salt intoxication in the last 3-4 weeks, with Dr. Meggs estimating there have been a couple of cases each week of people needing medical care after coming across these substances which can produce similar effects to illegal drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine.
"So people who get intoxicated with these substances can be aggressive, they can be combative, they can have fevers, their pulse rate rushes, their blood pressure goes up and its associated with heart attacks and strokes, even in healthy young people with no risk factors."
That's because the primary chemical found in bath salts is a substance listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning the drug has high abuse potential with no medical use.
"The two compounds that have been identified in them are related to a chemical found in a plant that is widely used for getting high and for stimulation throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East. The primary chemical is cathinone and they add some little radicals, little chemical groups here and there to make it into another chemical and market it as bath salts."
And like the drugs such as meth and cocaine which the bath salts mimic, Dr. Meggs says they have the potential on users to develop a chemical dependency.
"People can have withdrawal symptoms with difficulty sleeping, disturbance of mood, they can be depressed, these substances suppress appetite and people who take them chronically can lose weight. They can actually have wasting of their muscles and look like they came from a famine area somewhere so they are quite dangerous substances."
And like a lot of recreational drugs, people are finding different ways to use it. Typically bath salts are snorted but Dr. Meggs cites one case where it was ingested in a different manner resulting in an emergency room visit.
"It's actually been placed in incense and people will light the incense at a party and a group sits around and breathes the fumes from the incense and gets intoxicated. We had a case of a woman who ended up in an emergency department after prolonged breathing of this incense that contained these substances and she became extremely ill with confusion and disorientation, really had no clue what was happening to her."
While the drug is being sold in North Carolina legally, Dr. Meggs wonders whether it actually can be, saying there are designer drug laws that he thinks should cover bath salts. Whether those laws are applicable or not, two states Florida and Louisiana have already banned the sale of bath salts and in North Carolina legislation is currently being examined in the state Senate which would do the same. Dr. William Meggs is a medical toxicologist and emergency physician practicing at Pitt County Memorial Hospital as well as a professor at ECU's Brody School of Medicine. I'm George Olsen.