STONED – These are not your mothers Bath Salts!

Stone is the Chief Nursing Officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center.

Once upon a time, bath salts were something your mom reached for to help soak away her stress in a warm, relaxing tub. Unfortunately, “bath salts” have taken on a whole new meaning and drawn awareness to the ubiquitous world of synthetic drugs.

Unbeknownst to many, the synthetic drug market is alive and well, impacting people of diverse demographics and socioeconomic status. Since November 2008, synthetic cannabinoids, disguised as herbal incense products, were first detected in the United States by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) forensic laboratory. Alongside other illicit drugs and narcotics, these synthetic drugs are routinely encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection adding additional strains to their workloads. Manufacturers are elusive and shifty, labeling products as seemingly harmless items with descriptions as “bath salts”, “plant foods”, and “herbal incense.” In efforts to be even more evasive, manufacturers and retailers add “not for human consumption” labels to disguise their intended purpose and routinely change formulations to avoid FDA regulations. Unfortunately, these products end up in the Permian Basin and the hidden dangers are ominously lurking.

With widespread availability, the problem continues to grow. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, 2,906 calls relating to human exposure to synthetic marijuana were received in 2010. Twice that number (6,959) were received in 2011, and 639 had been received as of January 2012. Adding to this growing concern, synthetic drugs can actually be worse and more addictive than the drugs they are trying to mimic.

Aside from marijuana, these products are created to imitate the same effects as cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamines. With so many formulations and inconsistent dosages, users can experience damaging side effects such as paranoia, anxiety, insomnia, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, and instant addiction. The intensity and severity of such side effects has been highlighted in recent news with erratic behaviors including, but not limited to; self-mutilation, violent crimes, homicide, suicide, and arson.

If you suspect someone is using synthetic drugs, some clues and signs may be present to help validate your suspicions. Although many items have been pulled from the market, synthetic drug products carry names such as “K2”, “Spice”, “Frog-E”, “Scooby Snax”, and “Cloud 9.” These items usually come in small pouches or tubes and deceivingly labeled as incense, bath salts, or potpourri. Since these products are often ingested, snorted, or inhaled, the presence of drug paraphernalia may also be present.

These items may include pipes, straws, cigarette papers, bongs, and/or spoons. Coupled with a sudden change in behavioral patterns, the presence of these or similar types of items, packages, and labels certainly hold merit to support your suspicions of synthetic drug abuse. Even casual drug use can lead to full blown addiction and dependence so do not hesitate to seek help and offer assistance to those in need. The best way to approach someone you suspect is abusing, is to remain calm, share your concerns and listen. Continue to closely monitor their activities and make clear your intentions to help rather than enable.

Regardless of laws, regulations, and bans, our drug problem will continue as long as the demand is present. The most powerful remedy to this issue lies within the consumer to simply quit using it and/or not support places of business that sell or have been known to sell synthetic drugs. Applying the basic principles of supply and demand has a greater impact than you might imagine. Not spending a dime in an establishment, including online businesses, who sell this junk in our community sends a clear message. Without your money, their business suffers.

The recent figures provided by the Prevention Resource Center (PRC), ranked Odessa second (only to Houston) of the highest rate of “bath salt” usage per capita in Texas. It’s safe to say the demand for synthetic drugs remains a threat to the Permian Basin. Considering these statistics, it appears an opportunity exists for us to evaluate where and how we choose to spend our money.

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