RUMFORD — Bath salts, a designer drug sold legally in Maine until last month when the Legislature banned it, continues to be a serious problem here.
Since its arrival last summer with synthetic marijuana, aka "Spice," Rumford police have seen a sharp increase in violence-related complaints attributed to the synthetic drug, Capt. Daniel Garbarini said.
“And that violence can be with neighbors, with family or with law enforcement,” Garbarini said.
Primary users in Rumford range from young teens to young adults in their early 20s, although some older people are using it also, he said. People have told Rumford officers that bath salts give them a kind of euphoric feeling, he said.
“But what we started to experience was different scenarios where people would be up for days on end,” Garbarini said.
“There was aggressive behavior, threats against friends and family, there was kind of abusive, self-destructive behavior — they were cutting themselves — and these are various incidents that we've responded to,” he said.
Because the drug was legal, people told police they were experimenting with it, he said. Now that bath salts are illegal, Rumford police are not seeing a decrease in complaints from such use.
To Garbarini's knowledge, no one has overdosed and died in Rumford, but police have responded to complaints in which the user was homicidal, and then became suicidal before ending up in a hospital for treatment, he said.
He said parents concerned about whether their children are using bath salts should look for changes in behavior, diet and demeanor, increased energy and little need for sleep.
Robin Gilbert, nurse manager for the Rumford Hospital Emergency Room, said Thursday the ER had seen an increase in people seeking treatment for bath salts use.
The big difficulty is trying to figure out what a patient has ingested, she said. If the patient knows it's illegal, sometimes they are not forthcoming.
“Some of the things that we see with the bath salts is that the symptoms can range from mild agitation and anxiety to a racing heartbeat,” Gilbert said.
“And then the more serious side effects that we see are people can have hallucinations, seizures, they can become extremely aggressive, they get paranoia on you, they have panic attacks, and depending on how much they actually take, it can result in death,” she said.
Garbarini said side effects of bath salts parallel those associated with PCP, such as psychotic rage, lack of fear and the perception that they have superhuman strength.
Gilbert said it's sometimes difficult to treat the symptoms.
“The problem is there's not a lot of information about what the chemicals are — what the compound is that this is made of — so ... you try to treat the symptoms and support the patient through the most critical time,” she said.
In the past, Rumford Hospital could run tests on blood work or urine to determine what drug or drugs people used, whether it was marijuana, heroin or cocaine, Garbarini said.
“The challenge is now there is no mechanism in place to test for bath salts, specifically,” he said.
Dr. Tamas R. Peredy, who works in the Maine Medical Center Emergency Room in Portland, said no laboratory diagnosis can be done on the drug.
“If you come in and I do a drug screen on you, chances are the drug scan is going to be negative for anything that is related to the bath salts,” he said Thursday following a presentation at the Kennebec County Jail.
“These people can be very violent, and so in these particular cases you have to use the best drug to calm people down — meaning the fastest and the most potent," said Peredy,” who is the medical director of the Northern New England Poison Center in Portland.
If someone is intoxicated, they can be given a sedative that kicks in within 10 to 30 minutes, because they can be talked down or distracted, Peredy said.
Not so with people strung out on bath salts.
“We recommend sedatives first, and only if sedatives don't work, then we use anti-psychotics like Haldol,” Peredy said.
People on bath salts can have complications such as seizures, he said. “They can have high temperatures that cause muscle breakdowns and kidney failure, so it's really important to choose the right drug first.”