May 29th, 2012
05:47 PM ET

Why 'bath salts' are dangerous

On Saturday night in Miami, a naked “zombie-like” man attacked another man, biting off parts of his face. The attack was halted only when police shot and killed the attacker, identified as 31-year old Rudy Eugene.

What would make someone attack another man like an animal? Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, suspects that the attacker was under the influence of  drugs known as "bath salts."

These aren’t the same bath salts to make your tub water smell nice. “Bath salts” is just a fake name, but users know it’s not really for the bath.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse described bath salts as an "emerging and dangerous product" in February 2011, urging parents, teachers and the public to be aware of the potential dangers associated with these drugs, which had already been linked to numerous visits to the E.R. and calls to poison control centers in the U.S. In October 2011, these "bath salts" and its related products were put on schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which means that the drug has no legitimate use or safety in the U.S. and is highly addictive.

Bath salts contain amphetamine-like chemicals such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and pyrovalerone. They’re referred to as a “designer drug of the phenethylamine class” by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Other drugs in this class include amphetamines, mescaline, and ephedrine. MDPV comes in a powdered form that is inhaled, swallowed or shot into a vein. Bath Salts are sold as "cocaine substitutes" or "synthetic LSD".

When MDPV gets to the brain, the effects include producing feelings of empathy, stimulation, alertness, euphoria, sensory awareness and hallucinations. Other reported effects include rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and sweating. According to the DEA, MDPV has been reported to cause intense panic attacks, psychosis, and a strong desire to use the drug again.

“Addictive substances, whether they are bath salts, alcohol or other drugs, can have horrific and costly consequences. Sometimes these consequences can result from only one use; other times they are a result of the complex brain disease of addiction," says Susan E. Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

"Together, risky use of addictive substances and addiction constitute our nation’s largest and most costly health problem.  In the interest of health and public safety, Americans must begin to understand that substance use is a preventable public health problem and addiction is a treatable disease," she added.

In 2009, reports began surfacing about teens and young adults abusing synthetic stimulant products sold as Bath Salts, “plant fertilizer," energy-1, Ivory Wave, Red Dove, Purple Wave, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Scarface, and Hurricane Charlie.

The Drug Enforcement Administration's forensic monitoring system found two reports of MDPV in 2009. In 2010 that figure jumped to 338 cases. Between January through September 2011, the numbers skyrocketed to 911 MDPV cases, spanning 34 states.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.