Monday, July 30, 2012

Relative of addicts 'planning on going to their funerals'


DOVER — A local woman told Foster's many of her relatives who abuse prescription drugs have recently turned to "bath salts," a legal stimulant soon-to-be outlawed this year, because it's cheaper and readily available in stores.

She said the effects of the "legal high" have ruined the lives of her family and she is terrified for the future.

"I'm just planning on going to their funerals," she said. "Drugs have literally ripped apart my entire family."

One relative of hers, a Farmington resident, has nearly overdosed or committed suicide several times this year while on bath salts.

"It's killed one of my relatives and it's about to take another if he doesn't get help," she said.

Different forms of bath salts — the street name for a legal substance falsely-advertised as bath beads, plant food and incense — contains methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mephedrone, stimulants which doctors say act like Ecstasy when taken.

Users consume the manufactured drugs by smoking, injecting or ingesting them and experience effects similar to those of cocaine, LSD, MDMA and methamphetamine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

A ban on bath salts and other "synthetic marijuana" compounds is set to go into effect Oct. 1 of this year, with President Barack Obama signing new legislation earlier this month. This past week, more than 90 individuals were arrested and more than 19 million packets of "designer" synthetic drugs were seized in the first-ever nationwide law enforcement action, called Operation Log Jam, by the DEA.

But local agencies say they are still grappling with the phenomena of this drug, which is recently available on shelves at local gas stations and convenience stores.

Frisbie Memorial Hospital Memorial Hospital's Assistant Director of Emergency Medical Services Gary Brock said his team has dealt with calls from bath salts users since last year, and the episodes are typically very violent. He said at the peak of incoming calls, Frisbie Memorial Hospital EMS received about a dozen reports every week, primarily out of the Rochester area, though their coverage extends to other Tri-City communities and beyond.

"The majority of calls we get are for individuals who are out of control," he said. "They're either out of control hallucinating or they're violent."

The unidentified woman said her addict relative has on many occasions called her house, claiming cracks in the walls are video cameras looking in on him, and his home is surrounded by police looking to arrest him. She said when her family drives to Farmington to help, he is often extremely agitated and fights against those wanting to help him.

Brock said this type of paranoia is a common occurrence in the calls he has responded to.

"Many of the signs and symptoms are very rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, chest pain — but very, very often, we encounter them hallucinating, acting paranoid and delusional," he said. "We haven't had any serious injuries (to EMS responders), but they certainly present a physical risk to both police and EMS as these patients ultimately have to be restrained while dealing with their medical issues."

With more than 30 years in emergency response, and 14 years at Frisbie Memorial Hospital, Brock said he can only hope the bath salts phenomena does not reach the level of the methamphetamine "epidemic" witnessed across the country. He said locally, bath salt users have already tied up hospital resources and emergency room staff for hours at a time.

"Bath salts do not clear their body for hours and hours and hours," he explained. "A patient can be in crisis for a very long time. It creates a log jam in the hospitals. A bath salt abuser who's in crisis can take up to half of the emergency room staff to initially try to deal with the crisis, and those are staff members that are being pulled away from other folks."

In 2010, 57 poison centers reported receiving 303 calls concerning bath salts use. In 2011, from January to August, that number rose 4,720. At the national level, the DEA reported the number of calls multiplied nearly four times, with 3,200 calls in 2010 to 13,000 in 2011. 60 percent of the cases reportedly involved patients 25 and younger.

Recently however, Brock said he has seen a drop-off in the calls and, while he can't point to anything specifically, he said it may have to do with the ban slated for this fall. Also, effective Jan. 1, 2013, New Hampshire's "driving while intoxicated" (DWI) charge will include language to outlaw all chemical substances which are considered to impair a driver, including bath salts, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications such as Benadryl.

"We've certainly been seeing the decline in the bath salts issues and we'll welcome that relief," he added.

For the local woman concerned for her relative, she said she is appalled by the social systems in place that encourage her family members to keep using. She said her Farmington relative has a network of friends who trade narcotic prescriptions or buy pills at $1 per milligram, and when they can't get a hold of those substances, they fall back on bath salts to get them through the lull.

As she learns local stores are pulling their supply in advance of the upcoming ban, she said her relatives will even turn to alcohol. She wishes more rehabilitative services were available, noting her homeless relative, who lives hopping from couch to couch, can't afford health insurance.

"He stays in. He doesn't go out," she said. "It's a beautiful summer and he's pale, pale, pale. He's a vampire. They (his friends) all are. They stay up all night doing Suboxone and Oxys and Percocets, Vicodin, and then bath salts when they can't get those. That's why bath salts isn't an exclusive story."

Brock said his department is aware of the prescription drug users turning to bath salts to aid their addiction, but he said a patient's reaction to bath salts is unlike any other he has observed.

"One of the problems with it is their chemical makeups are very similar to amphetamines. Use creates a high in the addiction centers of the brain that would cause an individual to want to seek that high again," he said. "(But) the methamphetamine abusers we see tend to not have these violent and paranoid behaviors with every instance of use, whereas anecdotally, our experience has been that we see a great deal more violence and hallucinations with use of the bath salts. It may be the combination of all the unknown (manufactured) chemicals with this that's causing this very dangerous behavior."

Lawmakers continue to warn manufacturers of these drugs, said to be based internationally, find new ways to tweak their chemical compounds so they can stay ahead of the law and design new drugs that have yet to be banned in forthcoming years.

Time will tell how manufacturers respond to the new laws in place while the community hopes these bans have some effect on halting drug use at the local level.

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