Doc Talk: Two Dangerous Drugs

Doc Talk: Two Dangerous Drugs

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Spice and bath salts―those are the innocent-sounding names of two very addictive and dangerous substances that drug treatment professionals at St. Elizabeth say are becoming big problems among local youth. Below is information on the drugs, signs of their abuse and where to turn for help if you believe someone you love has a drug or alcohol problem.


“Spice, K2, fake marijuana, skunk or moon rocks”
Those are just a few of the street names for a frightening drug that treatment professionals are seeing increasingly used by young patients coming into St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for Drug and Alcohol Treatment. Regardless of the name, the drug is essentially the same: dried, shredded plant material, which has been treated with what is presumed to be a number of mind-altering chemical additives.


Though illegal, the substance is reportedly very easy to find and purchase locally. Which is evidenced by the number of users who have ended up in local emergency rooms suffering from violent seizures, debilitating headaches, light sensitivity and other troubling symptoms. But, even more disconcerting is the fact that this drug can leave lasting, sometimes debilitating effects on its users.


At St Elizabeth, we’ve seen firsthand how this substance can wreak havoc on the lives of those who use it. In one example, a patient came to us for treatment after a four-month-long hospitalization at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. That hospitalization was necessitated by a prolonged episode of smoking spice. This young patient had reportedly been left in a complete stupor by the drug, at one point, and had to relearn how to perform all the standard activities of daily living.


In fact, recent studies indicate that spice abuse can lead to sudden, severe mental illness, which can even become long-term in certain vulnerable people. This fact is very troubling, especially given that spice seems to be so appealing among teens and young adults.


Earlier this year, the St. Elizabeth IOP staff polled our teen-age patients to get a read on the drug’s popularity and prevalence locally. More than 75 percent of our young patients admitted using spice―often in an attempt to get “cheat” drug screens required by their parents or court officials.


Almost all the users reported intense “highs” from smoking spice, as well as severe withdrawal, including headaches, paranoia, increased fighting and black-outs. In fact, many patients said withdrawal―including extreme paranoia, nausea and disconnection to reality―was so difficult that they wanted and needed to continue using spice in order to manage its painful effects.


Though the substance appears to be more popular among youngsters, adults in St. Elizabeth’s Adult Dual Diagnosis treatment program also reported using spice. But, these older users seemed to know more about how harmful the drug can be and, perhaps as a result, used it for shorter periods than our younger patients.


Older patients in our program were, in fact, more likely to use the drug once and stop. Regretfully, many of the younger patients said they had simply pressed through the considerable discomforts of withdrawal and continued use.


Bath Salts: A “Legal Poison”
The synthetic stimulant, known on the street as “bath salts,” is relatively new to the recreational drug trade. So new, in fact, that the legislation needed to ban it is still being created. As a result, this dangerous, mind-altering chemical is now being sold legally on the internet and at some drug paraphernalia stores.


Bath salts are very easy to find and buy, especially online. But, they’re not cheap. As a result, the drugs are often mixed with other substances and sold at a lower price, making them more attainable and affordable. The drug’s easy accessibility is specifically disconcerting when you consider that knowledge is limited about its precise chemical composition, how it’s produced, and its short- and long-term effects. Some of the drugs sold on the street have later been found to contain potentially lethal rat poison. Therefore, it’s critically important that everyone, particularly parents, learn about the drug and its dangers.


We do know, for instance, that bath salts often contain a chemical cocktail that simulates amphetamines, like methedrone and mephedrone. These drugs act as stimulants on the brain, making them highly addictive and prone to abuse. In fact, among drug abusers, these products are often called or sold as “cocaine substitutes.”


Sadly, the prevalence of these drugs appears to be growing, from use by mostly suburban young adults, to newfound popularity in both urban and rural communities. Likewise, its use has increased among preteens and older adults. Despite the warning label reading: Not intended for human consumption, bath salt packaging is often appealing to youngsters, with names like Ivory Wave, Red Dove, Zoom, White Lightening or Ocean Snow. Some users report feeling euphoric, while others say they feel more alert, confident and talkative.


Along with these “highs,” however, most users often report heart palpitations, blurred vision, hot flashes and muscle tension. Doctors and clinicians say use of bath salts can cause chest pains, increased blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia and delusions. There may also be nausea or vomiting, resulting in decreased appetite. And then there’s the possibility of addiction. Though little evidence suggests bath salts are physically addictive, users say it’s tough to stop once they’ve started. Indeed, long-term use may result in psychological dependence.


The good news is that the overall prevalence of abuse of this drug is still relatively low. But, it’s important that the public be informed about the drugs’ presence and its true effects to reverse the current rise. So, while it’s true that bath salts have been known to provoke extremely violent behavior in some people―like that relayed in some recent national media coverage―these are extreme cases, and should not be used as reference points.


We hope the information in this article will help you better identify whether someone you know or love has a problem with spice, bath salts or any other drug. In those cases, we hope you will seek help as quickly as possible. In case of emergency, call 911 or go immediately to your nearest hospital emergency department. In less urgent circumstances, where you think you or someone you love needs help, please call the professionals at the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Intensive Outpatient Program for Drug and Alcohol Treatment at the number listed above for more information and support.


Call (859) 212-5384 to contact St. Elizabeth Intensive Outpatient Program for Drug and Alcohol Treatment.


Written by: Charlene Burlew & Tom Garamy, St. Elizabeth Healthcare―Chemical Dependency Therapists.
Editor’s Note: This is a special advertising supplement, paid for by St. Elizabeth Healthcare.