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Bath salts: Gruesome Miami attack adds to drug's bizarre history

Reports suggest that synthetic drugs euphemistically named 'bath salts' might be behind a notorious recent Miami attack. Police are well aware of curious cases involving the drug.

By Mike EckelStaff writer / June 5, 2012

Tennessee House members look on last month in Bristol, Tenn., as Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signs a bill making it a felony to sell synthetic drugs knows as bath salts.

David Grace/Kingsport Times-News/AP/File

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Months before the lurid case of a Miami man who allegedly cannibalized a homeless man's face, police and emergency officials as far flung as Maine and Louisiana were coping with their own surreal 911 calls also linked to the drug quaintly known as "bath salts":

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A 21-year-old Louisiana man who cut his own throat then shot and killed himself after being treated by doctors. A Maine man who got off his motorcycle in the middle of a highway and started trying to hit passing cars with a piece of wood. A Maine woman who thought her teeth were filled with ticks and tried to cut them out with a knife.

The common theme is a strong suspicion that the causes of such erratic behavior were the cheap, potent, innocent-looking, and, until recently, legal and undetectable, synthetic drugs that spark hallucinatory, paranoid rages.

Bath salts are the latest narcotics trend to rattle communities mainly in the eastern US, baffling emergency-room doctors, spooking police officers, and prompting lawmakers to rush through bans and emergency legislation. With echoes of earlier drug epidemics – crack cocaine in the 1980s, prescription-drug abuse in 1990s, crystal meth in the 2000 – the bath-salt scare is both shocking and routine.

"It’s nothing new. It’s stimulant abuse in its most recent formulation, and unfortunately, it leads to bad consequences, but it’s really no different than other waves of other stimulant abuses in the past,” says Tamas Peredy, an emergency-room physician in Portland, Maine, and medical director of the Northern New England Poison Center.

A Miami police official has speculated that bath salts were behind the bizarre May 26 incident in which a 31-year-old man allegedly tore off the clothes of a homeless man under a highway and ripped off parts of his face. Toxicology reports have not been released on the attacker, who had to be shot at least five times by police trying to stop the assault, according to The Miami Herald.

Unlike cocaine or heroin, bath salts are synthetic stimulants that contain various chemical compounds. Emergency rooms and poison centers report that overdoses have caused problems ranging from paranoia to hallucinations. It is unclear how addictive the bath salts are.

“We had people telling us: ‘This is the worst thing I ever did, but the cravings were so intense that I used it for eight days straight,’ ” says Louisiana Poison Center Director Mark Ryan, who in 2010 was one of the first doctors to document the surge in cases.

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