Rudy Eugene, 31, left, who police shot and killed as he ate the face of Ronald Poppo, 65, right, during a horrific attack in the shadow of the Miami Herald’s headquarters, May 26, 2012. (Source: ABC News)
Taken away by Calgon? Three questions for Richard Clark about “bath salts”
31 year-old Rudy Eugene made headlines earlier this week when he attacked a homeless man by stripping, beating, biting and, according to witnesses, eating the man’s face while under the spell of a powerful hallucinogenic. Police suspect that Mr. Eugene had ingested “bath salts,” the latest designer drug that is fast catching the attention of emergency rooms and law enforcement agencies across the country.
We’ve asked Richard Clark, MD, director in the Division of Medical Toxicology for UC San Diego Health System, and medical director for the Poison Control Center, three questions about “bath salts” and why they are dangerous.
Question: First things first, what are “bath salts?”
Answer: “Bath salts” are new types of methamphetamines that have been made and sold in many parts of the United States in the past few years. They are so named as they somewhat resemble true crystal bath salt products, and were initially sold with that name to avoid drawing the attention of law enforcement. Their labels initially and often still warn that they are not for human consumption, although this is also meant to be a disguise. There are several different compounds that have been discovered and many times these products are a mixture of the various compounds, but they all act on the body and brain in the same way as traditional methamphetamine, with a few variations. For instance, they are thought to be more addictive than regular methamphetamine, and users often ramp up their consumption of these new products rapidly. Secondly, they tend to provoke more violent behavior in some people who consume them. Finally, most of them will not show up on urine toxicology screening in many medical centers, making the initial diagnosis difficult for health care providers. These drugs can be smoked, taken by mouth, insufflated into the nose (“snorted”) or injected.
Q: This attack was particularly gruesome. Is this typical behavior for someone under the influence of Bath Salts?
A: “Bath salt” methamphetamine products have quickly developed a reputation as inciting aggressive and violent behavior in users. We warn callers to the California Poison Control System that we hear about more self-harm or self-mutilation type behavior in people using bath salts than with traditional methamphetamine. Bath salts users also tend to act more violently towards others, committing crimes and sometimes homicide.
Q: Have you seen an increase of patients coming into our emergency room or calls into the Poison Control Center involving “bath salts?”
A: We have seen a rise in reports of violence associated with these drugs, and probably visits to EDs due to these drugs. Unfortunately, since they are often difficult or impossible for health care providers to identify on routine blood or urine testing (unlike traditional methamphetamine), confirming their presence in the patient may not be possible unless the person volunteers that they consumed them. This has limited our ability to get accurate statistics of their use.