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Police, doctors explain difficult fight against bath salts

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SALT LAKE CITY — Police and doctors are calling the fight against bath salts — a designer drug — "insidious" because it's hard to test for and trace. Not much data and case studies are available, but it doesn't mean Utah is losing the war against the drug.

Users of bath salts are showing up in higher numbers in emergency rooms, and doctors can only guess what's wrong.

Intermountain Medical Center ER director David Barnes said it's like finding a needle in a haystack.

"Meningitis or encephalitis, it can mimic stroke sometimes," he said. "And so, without knowing what they've done, we're stuck doing very expensive and very invasive tests."

These are tests like spinal taps and brain scans, done because the hospital don't know what else to do. Most of Barnes' patients are teens and young adults who don't know what they're getting into.

"They've been trying to break into a neighbor's homes after they've been high on these drugs, and really don't know why they're trying to break in," he said.

That's because you could buy bath salts on the internet, or up until last year, over the counter at stores under names like Ivory Wave and Plant Food, sold in packages that make them look like candy.

This is not a good thing, and it's not a good high, and more of them are saying don't try this stuff.

–Scott Van Wagoner

On the streets, Unified Police Sergeant Scott Van Wagoner says bath salts are not getting rave reviews.

"This is not a good thing, and it's not a good high, and more of them are saying don't try this stuff," he said. "It makes you feel awful."

He remembers one startling case of a Louisiana man whose father saved the man after his first suicide attempt, but not his second.

"He had been a longtime user of these bath salts with no history of mental illness up to that point," Van Wagoner said.

But at the same time, word is slow, so there still a steady increase in cases, according to Van Wagoner.

And health agencies aren't tracking bath salts injuries or deaths, yet, Barnes said.

"A lot of these synthetic drugs aren't picked up in our standardized tests," he said.

That is another big reason users try new drugs: to circumvent any testing and arrests.

Utah banned the chemicals for bath salts last year, Colorado's governor signed a bill into law on Friday doing the same. But legislators, police and doctors always have to be on guard for new ingredients, so that they can prevent any bath salts off-shoots or hybrids.

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Peter Samore


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