JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
A dangerous designer drug with an innocuous name is growing in popularity, causing concern in the military and in the civilian world.
Marketed as "bath salts," these retail products contain chemicals that are synthetic derivatives of cathinone, a central nervous system stimulant, and are known to effect users in a variety of ways, from agitation, insomnia, irritability and dizziness to depression, paranoia, delusions and suicidal thoughts, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"Mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, are derivatives of cathinone and they're found in a number of retail products," Kathryn McLemore, 359th Medical Operations Squadron drug demand reduction program manager, said. "These products are believed to be manufactured in China and India for wholesale distribution in Eastern Europe."
McLemore said 34 states have a legislative ban on bath salts and the remaining 16 are part of an emergency federal ban.
"With this legislation, consuming or possessing bath salts is illegal," she said.
In October 2011, the DEA published a final order in the Federal Register exercising its emergency scheduling authority to control three synthetic stimulants used to make bath salts: mephedrone, MDPV and methylone.
McLemore said bath salts come in crystallized powder form.
"Mephedrone is a fine white, off-white or slightly yellow-colored powder," she said. "It can also be found in tablet form. MDPV is a fine white or off-white powder."
Bath salts are typically sold in plastic bags or foil packages of 200 and 500 milligrams under various names - street names like Bliss, Blue Silk, Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave and White Dove. They are usually labeled "Not for human consumption."
"They're mostly sold on the Internet, in convenience stores and in head shops," McLemore said.
Bath salts are ingested by sniffing or snorting.
"They can also be taken orally, smoked or put into a solution and injected into veins," she said.
In addition to effects such as agitation, depression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts, users report impaired perception of reality, reduced motor control and decreased ability to think clearly, McLemore said. The effects of bath salts have been likened to those of amphetamines, cocaine, LSD and ecstasy.
"Because the chemicals in bath salts are a central nervous system stimulant, users experience rapid heart rate, which may lead to heart attacks and strokes; chest pains; nose bleeds; sweating; nausea; and vomiting," she said. "It's pretty serious stuff."
No calls regarding bath salts were made to U.S. poison control centers in 2009, but statistics from the National Drug Intelligence Center showed that the American Association of Poison Control Centers received 2,237 bath salts-related calls from 47 states and the District of Columbia between Jan. 1, 2011, and May 12, 2011.
McLemore said she has seen no evidence of bath salts use by Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Airmen.
"I have had no positives here, and we test pretty regularly," she said.
McLemore said the Air Force's stance on bath salts and similar substances is clear: zero tolerance.
Air Force Instruction 44-120 says the "knowing use of any intoxicating substance, other than the lawful use of alcohol or tobacco products, that is inhaled, injected, consumed or introduced into the body in any manner to alter mood or function is prohibited."