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Bath salts, 'incense' abuse on the rise

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New drugs are harder to test for than marijuana, meth or cocaine.

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By SHAINA STOCKTON
Staff

Police, healthcare workers and educators are more savvy about commonly abused drugs like marijuana and meth, but less familiar with a new crop of substances, particularly those known as “bath salts” and “herbal incense.”
To educate the community about the dangers of these chemicals, both of which can cause delusions and hallucinations, the Twin County Prevention Coalition held a “Knowledge is Power Day” on Sept. 14 at the Crossroads Institute in Galax.
Six speakers talked about substance abuse, how it threatens society and how it can be prevented.
The overall turnout was around 105 people, said coalition president Debbie May. Every seat in the auditorium was filled for the day-long event and some stood to hear the lectures. Probation officers, police, hospital staff, youth service workers, EMTs and social service workers were just some of those who attended.
Lectures covered topics such as “Addiction is a Brain Disease,” “Adolescents and Addiction” and “Synthetics and the Law.”
Kristine Nutt of the Life Center of Galax, a drug and alcohol rehab center, gave an eye-opening presentation about herbal incense and bath salts, the slang terms used for newer drugs that have hit the market.
The manufacturers of these products use clever packaging to disguise them as household products like plant fertilizer, cleaner, insect repellent and ladybug attractant, and are commonly sold in convenience stores, she said.
The ingredients are either not listed on the packet at all or only listed in part. The warning labels are very specific, so it tells the consumer exactly how to use it in a backhanded manner, Nutt said.
The bath salts contain synthetic cathinones, similar to the organic stimulant found in the khat plant. It is mostly marketed as a white or brown powder form, but it has also been sold in crystal form.
The drug causes powerful hallucinations, paranoia, sudden anger and high body temperature.
Nutt said that some users have reported psychotic symptoms months after taking the drug. “These hallucinations are usually not pleasant,” she said, “They see things like monsters, demons and aliens, or they think that someone is out to get them.”
A high-profile case of bath salts abuse occurred in Florida this year, when a man on the drug attacked another man and, under the drug’s hallucinatory effects, tried to eat his face. He was shot after being confronted by police.
Nutt says that the majority of those who try bath salts are first-time drug users and do not use it for long  before experiencing strong symptoms. The average dose is 5 to 20 mg, but packets contain up to 500 mg. Therefore, overdose is a high risk.
"Spice" and "K2" are herbal or vegetable matter sprayed with a synthetic cannabinoid that is supposed to mimic the effects of marijuana. They often are sold as "incense."
Many see this as a legal substitute for marijuana, said Nutt. “Incense” is green and leafy, similar to marijuana or oregano.
Symptoms experienced are also similar to marijuana effects, such as euphoria, giddiness, blood-shot eyes, short-term memory loss, concentration impairment and “the munchies.”
The attempts to control these substances are difficult because of how they are manufactured. “Manufacturers constantly change the ingredients and packaging, so they keep coming back as something else,” said Nutt.
She has also observed that, when these products are banned from the shelves, many continue to be sold from under the counter.
That was the case earlier this year, when two youths were found driving their car in a circle after ingesting herbal incense. A subsequent raid at a Grayson County business, Ted’s Market, turned up several packages of the drug behind the counter.
The sale and use of such synthetic "herbal incense" products is illegal in Virginia.
These drugs are not picked up by most of the current drug tests, so the best way to tell that someone has used these products is by a combination of testing (to rule out other drugs) and an observation of the symptoms, Nutt said.
She hopes that a good understanding of these products, how they look and where they are available will help prevent further use. “If you see these products or you believe that they are being sold, please call and report it to law enforcement,” she said.
Other speakers at the seminar included Mark Larsen, LPC, of Occupational Enterprises Inc.; Darlene Vaughn, Mount Rogers Community Services Board; Laura Blankenship of Bristol Crisis Center; Lee Harrell, deputy commonwealth’s attorney of Wythe County; and Dennis Dean.

For more information about the Twin County Prevention Coalition, visit www.tcprevent.org.