Synthetic stimulants sometimes marketed as bath salts, plant food or research chemicals are increasingly cropping up around Maine.

“Bath salts” sold under names such as Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, Meow Meow and Bubbles can contain the stimulant mephedrone and the psychoactive drug methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV. Law enforcement agencies and poison control centers say the effects of bath salts include hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure. Seizures and kidney dysfunction have also been seen.

The drugs have been popular in Europe for several years but have been so in the United States only more recently. The Northern New England Poison Center started getting calls about bath salts last year, with Maine accounting for most of the activity.

“This is a problem that’s been big in other parts of the country and is growing right now here,” said Karen Simone, director of the poison center.

The problems in Maine seem to be centered in Bangor and Penobscot County but have popped up in most other areas of the state, Simone said.

Bath salts have also been blamed in instances of people hurting or killing themselves. A Mississippi man said bath salts led him to slit his own face and stomach repeatedly. The family of a young man in Louisiana says he cut his throat before fatally shooting himself after three days of intermittent delirium.

The drugs are legal in many states, including Maine, but the federal Drug Enforcement Agency is looking into whether emergency federal legislation is warranted. State Rep. Seth Berry, a Bowdoinham Democrat, has received approval to introduce emergency legislation at the State House this session.

Bath salts can be bought over the Internet and at some smoke shops, convenience stores and stores selling drug paraphernalia. The products are often labeled with warnings that they are not for human consumption, but users ingest them in a number of ways, like snorting, injecting and smoking.

Simone said the chemical structure of the substances in bath salts would lead her to believe that the drugs would be similar to amphetamines, Ecstasy or cocaine. But, she said, the effects are almost like those of PCP, or phencyclidine.

Simone has learned from colleagues elsewhere in the country that users can become violent, remain psychotic for days or weeks and continue to have cravings even when they have a bad experience with bath salts.

The number of poisonings reported to the center remains small but has jumped in recent months. There was one each in January and February before jumping to eight in March and seven in April. There were three in the first four days of this month.

Those numbers don’t necessarily indicate how many problems have occurred due to bath salts. Callers typically contact the poison center for advice when dealing with something new, so the calls could taper off as users become more familiar with the substance.

Police in Rumford started getting complaints about people under the influence of bath salts in the past couple of weeks. On Thursday, a suicidal person taken into protective custody turned out to have been using bath salts.

Police Chief Stacy Carter said the propensity for violence — in terms of both harm to the users themselves and to others — seems to be greater with bath salts than with other types of drugs. He said so far no one has been hurt by someone under the influence of bath salts, but he fears it could be just a matter of time if the trend continues.

“It seems to be becoming more prevalent recently. It causes great concern for us for public safety,” Carter said.

Bath salts have probably been in the Rockland area for a couple of months, but the number of incidents related to the drug has spiked in recent weeks, said Detective Sgt. Chris Young of the Rockland Police Department.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of extreme paranoia and hallucination. People are just thinking people are after them or that a group of people are after them,” he said.

Bath salts have also appeared in Greater Portland. Last week, Westbrook police came across some of it — packaged in a small Ziploc bag and resembling powdered heroin — during a traffic stop, said Capt. Tom Roth.

Bath salts have been found among other drugs in a handful of seizures in Cumberland County, said Sgt. Kevin Cashman, a Portland officer who supervises the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s county unit.

“We’re not overrun with it, but it’s definitely on our radar,” Cashman said.

At least 13 states have passed laws to control synthetic cathinones such as bath salts, said Roy McKinney, director of the MDEA. The MDEA is collecting information about bath salts through its eight task forces in the state to assist the federal DEA.

McKinney said a similar scenario took place with synthetic marijuana — sold under names like K2 and Spice — which is the target of a temporary federal ban.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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