NEW ORLEANS -- Dangerous new drugs are being sold as fake bath salts, fake fertilizer or fake insect repellent -- and sending drug abusers to emergency rooms around the country after snorting or smoking them, poison center officials say.
At least 84 people around Louisiana have been hospitalized because of paranoia, fighting, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and physical effects such as hypertension and rapid heartbeat -- most for a day or two but at least three of them for weeks, Mark Ryan, head of the Louisiana Poison Center, said Wednesday.
Although they're labeled as bath products or even poison, always including the warning 'Not for human consumption,' word on the street and the Internet is that they can be sniffed as 'legal cocaine' or 'legal speed,' Henry A. Spiller, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Center in Louisville, said Wednesday.
'These are experienced drug users ... There's a lot of things they'll suffer for the drug high they're looking for,' Spiller said. 'Even these people are coming into the emergency room. Even they can't handle these fairly nasty effects.'
Ryan said users describe the drugs as many times more potent than Ritalin or cocaine. Spiller said several people had tried to kill themselves, and others attacked friends or family.
Julie Sanders, an emergency room doctor in Covington, said her stepson, 21-year-old Dickie Sanders, shot and killed himself three days after sniffing 'Cloud 9' -- one of the names under which MDPV, short for methylenedioxypyrovalerone, is sold.
She said he felt so ill and paranoid the first morning that he repeatedly called his father, family physician Richard J. Sanders, telling him how he was feeling and what he'd taken. The drug kept him awake and paranoid for three nights, she said. The last night he hallucinated that their house was surrounded by police helicopters and dozens of police cars.
The coroner is investigating a possible suicide but has not officially ruled on it, said Capt. George Bonnett of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.
Ryan said poison centers around the country have gotten 160 calls -- 91 of them in Louisiana -- about problems from mephedrone and MDPV.
The drugs have been sold over the Internet and on the street, in headshops and in convenience, gas station and truck stop stores, said Ryan.
Spiller, who bought some for analysis, said they cost $40 for about two-hundredths of an ounce.
'You and I know that Bath and Body Works would make a fortune if that's what they charged for real bath salts,' he said.
Dickie Sanders was in the drug court system after being caught with marijuana, Sanders said. She said he'd passed all his drug tests and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for some six months. Someone else convicted in drug court sold him Cloud 9, saying, 'You can try this stuff and it won't show up on a drug screen.'
Sanders said her stepdaughter bought Cloud 9 at a gas station where the clerk had it under the counter.
'It was like a sugar or sweetener packet. When you feel it, it feels like only a few granules,' she said. 'There's no way it's a true bath salt.'
Ryan said the marketing is similar to that for the synthetic marijuana called 'spice' or 'K2,' Ryan said. 'It was being marketed as potpourri and incense. It was neither. It was meant to be smoked.'
'This is an emerging health threat that needs to be taken seriously,' Alvin C. Bronstein, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center and acting director of toxicosurveillance for the American Association of Poison Control Centers, said in a news release.
Ryan said other state poison centers have had a total of 69 calls about the drugs as of midday Wednesday: 19 in Kentucky, 13 in Florida, 12 in Mississippi, 10 in Missouri, six each in Tennessee and Texas, and four in Utah.
'Many of the people who came in described this as a really bad trip,' Ryan said. 'But because it causes such intense cravings, like methamphetamine, they keep using it.'
Ryan said the products are illegal in the United Kingdom and a number of European countries. England outlawed them in April, according to the North Yorkshire Police website.
The powders are sold under other names such as Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge plus, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove and White Dove, Ryan said.
It wasn't a big problem when it was sold only on the Internet, Spiller said. 'The group we're getting it from is paying cash at the gas station, not using a credit card over the Internet,' he said.
Ryan noted that, whether labeled bath salts, plant food or insect repellent, the packages have clear warnings, but buyers are looking for drugs.
'Their use is, by the blogs, to be snorted,' he said, adding that at least two Louisiana patients injected a drug and one tried to smoke it.
Sanders said her stepson took the drug on a Tuesday night. Late Wednesday night, he called his father and said he was afraid people outside his RV would try to break in.
'We didn't realize at the time this was an illusion he was having,' she said.
Thursday he seemed better but later had severe vomiting and cold sweats. That night, he thought the house was surrounded by police and helicopters, she said.
Sanders said her husband took him to the emergency room and blood work, a CAT scan and other tests all came back normal. The doctor also talked to her son for 15 or 20 minutes to make sure he wasn't suicidal, she said.
Richard Sanders apparently fell asleep while trying to keep his son calm, she said. The next morning, they found him dead. At first they thought it might be an accident, but she said they found a gun next to his legs.
'We realized he probably shot himself,' she said.
American Association of Poison Control Centers: http://www.aapcc.org/dnn/default.aspx
Kentucky Regional Poison Center: http://www.krpc.com/
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)