Alarming Trend

Designer drugs, including bath salts and synthetic marijuana, continue to plague area health officials.

A training session sponsored by the Chautauqua Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Council was held last week, and was attended by a dozen local professionals and nurses. The session was titled, “Designer Drugs: The New Alarming Trend.”

Tales of patients in hospital emergency rooms and clinics highlighted the dangers of the synthetic drugs, most of which began appearing four years ago.

“We had this person who took some of these bath salts and doesn’t remember a thing,” a nurse said. “They ended up in the hospital, but had no idea where they were.”

Another story explored the powerful reactions bath salts can have.

“We had this girl who couldn’t have been more than 100 pounds,” a member of the session said. “She tore off a billboard that was bolted to the wall. It took five people to get her under control.”

The training session was led by Melanie Witkowski, CASAC prevention coordinator of school-based services. She said designer drugs were created by “street chemists” trying to skirt drug laws, such as the Controlled Substance Act.

Bath salts, Witkowski said, were developed to mimic the effects of the Khat plant, a cathinone that causes excitement and euphoria. American soldiers were first exposed to the plant during the Gulf War in the 1990s.

The Drug Enforcement Administration labeled cathinone as a Schedule I drug in 1993, meaning there was a high-potential for abuse without accepted treatment methods available. Bath salts were later developed with similar, sometimes violent, reactions by its users.

“These synthetic drugs are trying to mimic current drugs,” said Witkowski, noting the various names used to sell the designer drugs. “They are trying to label them as legal and not meant for human consumption.

“If you see, ‘Not for children,’ or ‘This product is legal,’ it usually means it’s a drug designed to be used.”

Synthetic marijuana was invented by an organic chemist from Clemson University, Witkowski said. The products likely have been around since 2004, and became popular a few years later.

Availability of synthetic marijuana has waned with passage of state laws. However, some may still be found on the Internet.

“You can still find this stuff out there,” Witkowski said. “They have all these names for it, like cellphone cleaner or insect repellent.”