The Coming of the Bath Salts Zombies

I’m painfully aware that I’m at risk of becoming the blogosphere’s chief proponent for the re-legalization of bath salts, a drug that isn’t even illegal yet but will be when an emergency Federal ban takes effect on an undetermined date later this year.

I’m not. I’m really not pro-bath salts. This crap should be illegal even if the government were, say, to decriminalize meth and cocaine.

But whenever it covers drugs, the press seems to refrain from getting anyone who has any experience with drugs to do the writing. What, is it hard to find someone who has ever heard any really good drug horror stories to write for a newspaper? That would tend to argue against the “Drugs are a nationwide plague” that newspapers seem pretty attached to. Or is it that drugs really do rot your brain…maybe even more than reporting for the local news?

The truth is, anyone who’s ever sat around with drug people has heard stuff way more outrageous than what’s being sent around about bath salts. By which I don’t mean to be an apologist for bath salts, which sound like they suck. So why do I care? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Right now, as the menace spreads around the country, various newspapers appear to be be working the field, trying to get all the bath salts horror stories filed that it can before an emergency Federal DEA ban takes effect. That could be as early as later this month.

But for now, I find it oddly comforting that one doesn’t have to go any deeper into the criminal underworld than the corner store to join the ranks of the the demonized plague that is ruining society. Of course, the newsworthiness of the bath salts nightmare is entirely dependent on its horror stories, and as with with many new drugs, bath salts hasn’t had time to develop a mythology sufficient to satisfy either people who sit around and do drugs all day, or the press (who, as far as I can tell, seem to sit around and do drugs all day) or anti-drug spokespeople from police departments (I honestly don’t know what they’re on.)

So here’s why I care: The thing is, the press only gives a flying fuck about hard drugs of any sort (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine) when something makes it “newsworthy.” But people are out there having problems on drugs all the time…every day. They’re entering the correctional system, and they’re costing the taxpayers money in every state, every city, and Federally. And you know what they’re not finding? Sufficient social support and services to get help before they enter the system, or to help them stay clean after they do enter the correctional system.

Meanwhile, the addiction industry on one level survives on the fact that rich people with drug problems can pay for services, and public and nonprofit services for low-income persons thrive on the fact that some people who care about that stuff are willing to work for peanuts and endure intolerable working conditions. The world of public and foundation-funded social services for people with addiction problems seems to chew its workers up and spit them out because they’re good people. How newsworthy is that?

There’s been heroin and cocaine addiction in the US since the late 1800s, and methamphetamine since at least the 1950s, and that entire time the services for low-income or even middle-income addicts have been sorely lacking. Drug users are seen as derelicts…people who “asked for it.” So when someone’s life gets fucked up on “boring” dope, then that’s not a news story.

But if “kids are taking this new thing called bath salts!?!?!?!?”

Well then, that is a hell of a story.

In case I need to catch you up, a new drug called “bath salts” has been blazing a trail through the south-Midwest, and is showing up in other cities. It’s legal and sold in convenience stories, and has effects somewhat like methamphetamine. It’s a serious problem, which I don’t meant to make light of. It’s hella dangerous and has not been researched; there have been deaths probably associated with the use of the drug, which can vary enormously in strength from batch to batch. Attempts to criminalize it have been slow, because it’s not covered in the Federal statutes and the issue (like many regional issues with emerging illicit substances) has tended to migrate from state to state.

Ultimately, what I’m horrified by is the half-assed way in which drug horror stories are related in the press. I”m never quite sure if I’m supposed to be actually horrified or faux horrified, but secretly titillated. Is it that people who report for local papers aren’t “hip,” so they’ve never hung out with drug fiends? I’m telling you, these stories just don’t stack up to the guy who took acid, thought he was a glass of orange juice, and spent the rest of his life begging people not to drink him.

Of course, when it comes to word-of-mouth, stories grow with the telling.

And why shouldn’t they? Half of the tellings of drug horror stories occur while the teller and the listener are, wait for it, on drugs. Nothing delights, for instance, cocaine users more than telling cocaine horror stories, whereas the press just has to shrug and say “Charlie Sheen.”

Having known a lot of people on a LOT of drugs, and some on a WHOLE LOT of drugs, I can testify that drug horror stories are one of the favorite things that drug users trade while they’re doing drugs. Like so much that’s said by drug users, the stories tend toward the bullshitty even when there’s a grain of truth. In my experience, that goes for about half the stories told by any given person who claims said story actually “happened to me!” If it happened to “my friend,” it’s definitely bullshit. If it happened to a stranger, it’s still got a pretty good chance of being crap.

And if a cop tells it to the press? Then it’s just weird. True? Not true? Or true, but just not that interesting? Intended as a cautionary tale? The tales coming out of New Hampshire actually sound pretty low-key compared to the tweakers who come to my local laundromat. All told, I think I’d rather have a city of bath salts zombies. When the Saltheads get around to “Covered with pustulating sores and talking nonstop to you about my sister in Fresno while you try to fold your underwear,” then give me a call and I’ll consider your proposal for righteous rage.

Anyway, here’s one recent panic, a little bit of love for bath salts from the Granite State. Life free or die!

DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire law enforcement officials are trying to deal with a powerful new drug that mimics cocaine but can be sold legally in stores.

The drug is called bath salts, and officials said it’s a synthetic stimulant that has been a problem in other states for years. Police said it’s now starting to take hold in New Hampshire, too.

Last month, thieves robbing a store in Somersworth targeted bath salts. And over move-in weekend at the University of New Hampshire, police were called to a medical emergency at one of the dormitories involving the drug.

“What we found there was a student that was completely delusional,” said UNH Police Deputy Chief Paul Dean.

The student had white powder covering his face.

“At that point, the police officer thought it involved cocaine or crystal methamphetamine,” Dean said.

But the drug turned out to be bath salts, and Dean said the student bought them legally.

…Over the past three months, Cheshire County Jail has had several inmates come in high on bath salts, jail officials said. Master Sgt. Matthew Willis said one inmate on the drug took his urine-soaked shirt and wrapped it around his face.

“After an hour or so, he would scream, talk to himself, act as if someone else was in the room with him,” Willis said.

Inmate Brett Wheeler said he used bath salts every day for months.

“Some brands give you a hallucinogenic high,” he said. “Some give you a meth or cocaine type of high.”

Wheeler said he bought the drugs at a local store.

“The convenience was a factor,” he said. “Not having to make a phone call. Just walk to the store.”

Wheeler was incarcerated in the jail on an unrelated charge.

Inmate Michael Arsenault was charged with criminal threatening in an incident that police said happened while he was using bath salts.

“It just crumbled me as a person in two months,” he said. “It ruined my life.”

Arsenault said that he lost 40 pounds when the drug caused him to lose his appetite for food and water. Bath salts weren’t the only drugs he had ever used, but Arsenault said they were among the most destructive.

“I’ve been an addict since I was a kid,” he said. “That drug, in particular, just took control of me, pretty much.”

Experts said the drug can be addictive, and the effects can last for days. Jail officials said the drug is so mind-altering that many inmates report that they can barely remember the experience.

“Afterwards, it almost seems like there’s guilt, disbelief at what they did,” said Officer Zachary Schucart. “After talking with a few of them, it seems like they won’t hesitate to use again.”


Incidentally, just as a rule of thumb, stories told by drug users are usually particularly incoherent if the teller is not high when they’re telling you. (In my experience, stories told by high people tend to be garbled, but often remarkably honest.

Stories told by people who want drugs, or want you to do whatever drug they’re doing, are the least accurate of all. “Don’t want to try cocaine, huh? Hey, more for me. Of course, it’s nothing like that meth. I knew this guy who flipped out on meth and doused himself in taco sauce and started rolling around in a–hey, you’re sure you don’t want some cocaine?”

Last, but far from least, there are some really weird things about bath salts on YouTube. Here’s a few examples:


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