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Bath salts spur spike in calls to poison center

MUNCIE — Indiana poison control officials are seeing a dramatic spike in the number of calls tied to exposure to synthetic drugs commonly known as bath salts.

The Indiana Poison Center received 360 calls about bath salt exposure in 2011 after receiving just four calls in 2010, according to The Star Press.

"It has accelerated pretty quickly," said pharmacist James Mowry, director of the statewide poison center at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Indiana's increase is well above the national rate, which also saw a large jump. In 2010, national poison centers received 304 calls. That rose to 6,138 last year.

Bath salts are laced with stimulants and have been compared to synthetic cocaine. The drugs, which are typically snorted in powder form or ingested in a pill, can cause paranoia and hallucinations, and two deaths were reported in Indiana last year as a result of their use.

The Indiana Legislature passed a law earlier this year banning bath salts, but the drug is still readily available. The drugs are sold online, in head shops and in convenience stores under brand names like Ivory Wave, Goodfellas and White Dove.

Eight people were arrested this week in raids in central Indiana after police received complaints that stores were selling the drugs.

Mowry said the poison center doesn't hear about all cases in which a user has had a bad experience. He said many hospital emergency rooms have contacted the center asking how to treat exposure to bath salts.

"A lot of these bath salts cause hallucinogenic effects, but they're also like amphetamines," Mowry said. "They can cause increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and, in larger amounts, seizures. The biggest problem we seem to have is a high incidence of psychotic reaction when people take it. We don't know if it unmasks a propensity toward psychosis or is a direct cause of psychosis."

The center recommends sedating patients.

"Normal sedation does not work as well as pretty big doses of sedation," Mowry said. "It takes stronger sedation than normal."

Mowry said the newness of the drug makes it difficult to know what long-term effects it could have on users. Of the 360 cases reported to the poison center last year, 86 people had minor effects, 166 had moderate effects and 21 suffered major effects, including the two people who died.

He said calls about bath salt use still pale in comparison to calls about analgesics such as acetaminophen and aspirin, which generated nearly 8,000 calls last year and caused 29 deaths.

Still, he said there's cause for alarm as the bath salt numbers rise.

"It's not the most worrisome problem we see, but it's rapidly becoming a big problem," he said.