States across the country continue to fight the spread of a dangerous new drug: bath salts.
They aren't anything like those soothing crystals you pour into the tub — they're synthetic stimulants, so-called designer drugs that cause paranoid, psychotic, often violent behavior in users.
can still be purchased legally in some states and, in some cases, over the Internet.
In Maine, use of the drug has reached epidemic proportions and is straining police departments and emergency rooms. So late last month, the state enacted tougher laws that make both possession and distribution of the drug felonies.
Shane Heathers, 34, injected it (bath salts), day and night, for nearly a week. He ended up at the hospital, where police were called in with tasers after he tried to break out to smoke a cigarette. Several more bath salts binges followed. The last one took place at the house in September.
Heathers' parents showed up with sheriff's deputies and an ambulance. They took him to an emergency room not unlike the trauma unit at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where Dr. Jonnathan Busko sees as many as eight patients a day on bath salts, often behaving just like Heathers.
Busko, who oversees the ER, points over at a hallway where patients are lying on gurneys. A typical patient, says Busko, requires the care of one doctor and one nurse. But a bath salts patient like Heathers requires much more.
"They take three to four nurses, our techs, our security staff and a physician to care for them," Busko says. "And that's just for each of them. So if we're seeing four to five of those at any given time, that's a tremendous use of our resources and it really draws us away from our other patients."
At the beginning of the year, hardly anyone in Maine had even heard of the drug. By the end of September, Bangor's police department had responded to as many as 400 bath salts-related incidents.
Paranoid bath salts users have been picked up armed with knives and guns. Until recently, the drug could be purchased legally in most states. But that's begun to change, as the dangers posed by bath salts have become more widely understood.
Along with Maine, other states are fast-tracking laws banning the drug. And a temporary federal ban will soon take effect, outlawing the main ingredients in bath salts, as well as bath salts made with those ingredients.