AUGUSTA COUNTY, Virginia - A new synthetic drug, commonly called bath salts, hit America's streets a couple of years ago, but it went unnoticed until police began reporting cases of addicts with bizarre behavior. Then, last month, authorities in Miami, Florida accused a man of eating another man's face.
It's calm now. But it hasn't always been like this for Ashley. Last year, she awoke one morning inside a car, with no shoes and the temperature minus 8 degrees Celsius. She says she was high on bath salts.
"This drug is psychotic. It is a crazy thing that no one should mess with," said Ashley.
Like most users, Ashley snorted this synthetic drug to get high. It looks similar, but is not the bath salts people use to soften bathwater.
Doctors say bath salts put users into a state of excited delirium. They are paranoid, super human - on a long-lasting high.
Addicts are often violent. A man took off his clothes and allegedly bit off the face of another. In another incident Police say a woman stripped and attacked her three-year-old son and her pit bull dog.
Calls to poison centers across the country have gone from none three years ago, to more than 6,000 last year. Dr. Paul Stromberg of the Virginia Poison Center says hotline workers now know the symptoms.
"Patients have to be subdued by multiple police officers. And, for whatever reason, every time you hear somebody is taking their clothes off, that usually is a bath salt case," said Stromberg.
Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine have just discovered why bath salt drugs are so powerful. Louis DeFelice says they change the brain composition and act as if they are a mix of two drugs.
"This is a very powerful methamphetamine and very powerful, long lasting cocaine," said DeFelice.
Mephedrone is one of the main chemicals in bath salts. It can have hundreds of variations, making detection virtually impossible. So once one variation is banned, the kitchen chemist simply mixes up a different one.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has placed a temporary ban on bath salts. Congress is trying to write a law to encompass all the mephedrone compounds.
In the meantime, all these bath salt knockoffs are legal in most states, and readily available.
Since this story was published, a toxicology report released by Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's office in Florida states the man involved in the face-biting incident had only marijuana in his system, not synthetic drugs such as bath salts, as previously reported.