Bath Salts: “Potential For An Epidemic”

By Erin Maxson

MEDFORD, Ore. — Doctors say the new drug to reach Southern Oregon is something out of a horror movie or nightmare.

Bath salts are a designer drug that’s been around for years and doctors say it is just now showing up in Southern Oregon. Experts are particularly concerned that there is so little to be done to control the use of the drug. Despite some moves by the DEA and state legislation, doctors and police say we are on the verge of an epidemic, they say one far worse than what our area’s seen with drugs before.

Doctor James Hammel has held several educational workshops with police, civic leaders, and other in the medical field about the designer drug, “bath salts”, and they are not what you use to relax after a hard day.

“These are incredibly toxic chemicals based on an African plant that come in a number of different chemical formulations and can make people incredibly violent and agitated and dangerous,” says Dr. Hammel. Dr. Hammel says each person he has seen or heard of has different symptoms.

“We are seeing people presenting with a whole gamut of symptoms. It has some of the worst similarities of some of our worst illicit substances,” he states. The combative nature of several suspected users in the Rogue Valley prove to put both his staff and police to the test.

“There can be an appearance that they have responded, but they take much higher levels of sedatives than any other psychiatric-type presenting patient that we ever see,” says Dr. Hammel.

The problems don’t end with the high, with hundreds of compounds in the bath salts category, unlike marijuana or meth, proving a person’s taken the drug is not easy.

“What is most dangerous about this epidemic, and I do think this qualifies as an epidemic, is that there is no way to reliably and accurately and quickly test for these substances,” Dr. Hammel says.
Despite being referred to as an upper having a high like PCP or ecstasy, doctors don’t yet understand what it’s doing to the body. Police say the drug isn’t that hard to find.

“There have been some websites that have sold online and from there it could move into the traditional trafficking,” explains Brett Johnson, with the Medford Drug And Gang Enforcement team.

Currently there is no permanent federal law banning bath salts, something many hope comes before it’s too late. The DEA moved the three parent compounds in bath salts to a Schedule I Drug, meaning they contain no medicinal benefits and ultimately declares them illegal on a temporary basis. Oregon and California prohibit the sale of bath salts.