Zombie Apocalypse? Or the Beginning of a Bath Salt Epidemic?

 

Happenings such as broad-daylight, human-on-human face mastication generally occur only in zombie movies. However, on May 26, 2012, a news story emerged from Miami, Florida, that detailed a graphic scene involving a homeless man high on “bath salts” eating the face off another homeless man. The assailant consumed 75% of his victim’s face before police officers were forced to shoot him. The victim survived the attack.

 

Bath salts are not in fact salts used for bathing, but are a crystal or white-powder-form drug sold in head shops, convenience stores, and via the Internet. The drug acts as a stimulant and reuptake inhibitor of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Bath salts have become more popular over the last two years: in 2010, there were only about 300 reported cases involving bath salts. In the first six months of 2011, over 3000 cases were reported.

 

Since the horrifying events that occurred on May 26, the media has been reporting on the increase in bath salt incidents over the last two years, and the threat the drug poses to the welfare of the user and bystanders. The drug often causes violent and psychotic behavior, and most bath salt stories reference tragic events, including graphic self-mutilations, suicides, and murders. The symptoms of bath salt use can include hallucinations, paranoia, agitation, psychotic behavior, and suicidal thoughts. Physiologically, the drug can cause irregular functioning of the heart and other serious symptoms. As of June 3, 2012, one Colorado death has been linked to bath salt use, and so far there have been ten reports made to Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center regarding use of the drug.

 

If these terrifying tales aren’t enough to dissuade the recreationally curious from trying this drug, then perhaps the criminal penalties associated with their use will. In September of 2011, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed a one-year ban on three chemical compounds commonly found in bath salts, including methylone, mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). The ban makes possession or distribution of any mixture that includes one or more of these compounds a federal crime that can result in a federal prison sentence. Congress has until September 2012 to decide whether to make this ban permanent.

 

Colorado has also begun the process of banning bath salts. The Colorado General Assembly is currently considering a bill that will add bath salt compounds to the state controlled substances statute. Colorado Senate Bill 12-116 will make it a class 1 misdemeanor to possess and a class 3 felony to distribute or sell any amount of bath salt compounds, including MDPV, methylone, or mephedrone. Therefore, if the bill passes, a conviction for possession of bath salts could result in jail time, a substantial fine, and other court-imposed penalties. Likewise, a conviction for distribution of bath salts could result in several years in prison, upwards of three-quarters of a million dollars in fines, and other court-imposed penalties. Additionally, anyone who distributes or sells any amount of a substance labeled as “bath salts” that contain any of the compounds listed in the bill could be subject to civil penalties.

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