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New campaign warns sailors of bath salt dangers

Dec. 31, 2012 - 04:24PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 31, 2012 - 04:24PM  |  
The Navy has launched a new effort to scare sailors away from the designer drug known as "bath salts." Part of the campaign includes an informational poster produced by the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
The Navy has launched a new effort to scare sailors away from the designer drug known as "bath salts." Part of the campaign includes an informational poster produced by the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. (Navy)
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‘Bath salt’ basics

Active ingredients: Cathinones such as mephedrone, 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and methylone.
How it’s used: The powder can be snorted, inhaled, injected, swallowed or taken intravenously.
What it does: Mental effects can include hallucinations, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. Physical effects range from rapid heart rate to vomiting. Severe cases have included heart attack and death.
Medical opinion: The American Journal of Medicine, in its September 2012 issue, called bath salt abuse "a serious international public health concern because of the severity of its physical and behavioral toxicities." An article in the February 2012 Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services found users may be drawn to use bath salts because they feel intense stimulation, euphoria, elevated mood and a pleasurable "rush."
Legal high?: Not exactly — the contents might not pop up on a urinalysis, but the Drug Enforcement Administration has banned the use, sale, purchase and possession of three cathinones. However, federal officials warn that drug makers will develop new chemicals to get around bans, and those chemicals could have unknown side effects.

SAN DIEGO — The growing availability of unregulated designer drugs known as "bath salts" inspired the Navy to launch a new campaign in late December aimed at scaring sailors away from the dangerous hallucinogens.

The powdery drug marketed as bath salts is nothing like the soaps commonly used for bathing or soaking, officials say.

The active ingredients in psychoactive bath salts are synthetic cathinones — drugs derived from khat, a plant native to Africa and long popular for the highs that result from chewing on its leaves.

First seen in Europe and sold online, bath salts emerged several years ago in the U.S., where users could buy them at convenience stores and drug-paraphernalia shops in packets with names like "Vanilla Sky," "Ivory Wave" and "Scarface."

In recent years, U.S. officials have noticed more hospitalizations and treatments due to psychotic episodes, such as hallucinations and paranoia, linked to using the synthetic drug, which often is marketed as a "legal high" because it evades standard drug tests.

The military wasn't immune. Three years ago, Navy medical officials in San Diego noticed a handful of cases where sailors and Marines had used spice — a synthetic substitute for marijuana — or bath salts, suffering similar psychotic episodes and physical troubles such as rapid heart rate and poor breathing.

The new education and awareness campaign is similar to what Navy Medicine developed to combat spice. Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan, the Navy surgeon general, has likened the use of such drugs, powered by dangerous and often unknown chemicals, as "playing Russian roulette" with one's health and career.

This latest effort "is part of a long-term communications effort on the danger of synthetic drugs," said Shoshona Pilip-Florea, a BUMED spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. "Synthetic drugs are a top concern for Navy leadership, and we are actively combating them on various levels."

One of the Navy's online videos tells the story of a 26-year-old sailor found unresponsive by his roommate after snorting a powdery substance. The sailor then awakens, convulsing into what seems like a nightmare, with creepy hallucinations, delusions and confusion that cause him to lash out physically at others.

The storyline underscores the campaign's slogan: "Bath salts: It's not a fad ... it's a nightmare."

Lt. George H. Loeffler, a psychiatry resident at Naval Medical Center San Diego, is among those who first noticed the trend of bath salt abuse and has studied patient cases. In the video, Loeffler characterized bath salts as "violent and unpredictable," and says users often suffer paranoid delusions, hallucinations and other severe symptoms that "will last long after the intoxication is gone."

"Bath salts not only will jack up your family and your career, it will jack up your mind and your body, too," he said in the video. "Ultimately, people are jacking up their brains with what they are doing."

There's no proven treatment for those abusing the drugs.

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