Saturday, January 5, 2013

Military Warns of Bath Salts Threat

A scary, creepy, and important military health warning about the dangers of bath salts (If you don't know about this new drug fad, click here) is making headlines courtesy of the Naval Medical Center, which created and uploaded a dramatic public service announcement a couple of weeks ago.

Filming the experience of being high – and delusional – on bath salts from a young sailor's point of view, the mini-movie Bath Salts: It's Not a Fad, It's a Nightmare documents serious long-term mental health issues, including psychosis and schizophrenia, arising from servicemen's use of designer drugs. It's up on YouTube and has generated some pretty interesting comments.

The Navy's graphic video shows a sailor under the influence of bath salts hitting his date

According to Lieutenant George Loeffler, Chief Psychiatry Resident at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, treatment centers are seeing patients whose use of bath salts has led to paranoid delusions and psychotic episodes that last long after the drug is out of their systems.

Loeffler's first-hand experiences treating patients hospitalized on the San Diego Naval psych ward are chilling. "When people are using bath salts, they're not their normal selves. They're angrier, they're erratic,  they're violent, they're unpredictable. People will start acting really weird, seeing things that aren't there, believing things that aren't true," Loeffler says. "Some people describe people spying on them, trying to kill them and their families, other people talk about seeing demons, and things that are trying to kill them."

Like many addiction treatment experts, who are seeing more and more cases of people seriously messed up on bath salts, Loeffler wants users to understand they may be permanently damaging their brains.  "One of the most concerning things about bath salts is that these hallucinations, these paranoid delusions, will last long after the intoxication's gone," Loeffler says.

"What we've found on the inpatient psychiatric ward is that days, if not weeks, after the last time they used bath salts, that paranoia, those beliefs that there are evil things out in the world that are after them, those stick around, and sometimes they last for weeks." He adds, ominously: "Ultimately, these people are jacking up their brains with the stuff that they're doing."

Psychiatrists don't have good treatments for bath salts intoxication, Loeffler says, adding that doctors' main goal is to "keep people safe" while they're under the influence of the drugs, and sometimes for a period of necessary hospitalization afterwards. The drugs typically contain synthetic cathinones, either singly or in combination, and one packet can contain a completely different dosage than the last.

Since early 2011, the Navy and other branches of the military have been battling increased use of bath salts and other designer drugs by servicemembers, who order the drugs online and have them delivered by mail, or buy them at local head shops. Concern is so high that Navy Medicine has set up a special website, Synthetic Drugs and Your Health, with extensive information and resources on bath salts and Spice, the other designer drug in widespread use.

An older Navy Medicine public service video, Spice: It's Not Worth It, shows young sailors throwing their careers into jeopardy under the spell of Spice. According to the Director of the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps, Master Chief Sherman Boss, and Rear Admiral Michael H. Anderson of the Marine Corps, both featured in the film, the military has a "zero tolerance" policy in effect is now administering drug testing that can detect many designer drugs.

But because this is, as Anderson puts it, "a moving target," the military does not require a positive urine test to begin "administrative separation" if they suspect designer drug use. In other words, get crazy on Spice or Bath Salts, and you're out.

Some of the facts the Navy wants its members to know about Spice:

  • Spice is 5-200x more potent than THC in marijuana
  • Spice causes elevated blood pressure, tremor, seizures, vomiting, abdominal pain and more
  • Several reported episodes of heart damage have been reported with Spice use
  • Spice causes psychotic symptoms, hallucinations and paranoid behavior
  • Spice is found to cause loss of consciousness
  • Don't know what's in Spice = Russian Roulette

It's clear from the numerous communications about designer drugs in military publications that the issue is a hot one. In early 2012, the Navy announced in military communications that an "alarming increase" in designer drug use had led to the dismissal of 1515 sailors in 2011. The marines, which are also having a problem with designer drugs, have issued numerous alerts and introduced stricter testing as well.

The biggest hurdle the military faces in responding to the new designer drugs is that many of the most concerning chemicals don't "pop" on drug tests, according to the Navy's Loeffler. In fact, the drugs are marketed to sailors, soldiers and marines touting this specific advantage, says an article in theMarine Corps Times. And that's not going to change anytime soon, as drug designers come up with new combinations to avoid current bans.

For example, since the FDA banned MDPV and mephedrone – two key ingredients in many bath salts -  this past fall, an even more dangerous chemical called naphyrone has been turning up, Loeffler says. A stimulant that's ten times more potent than cocaine, naphyrone also lasts longer than other MDVP, mephedrone, and other cathinones.

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