Emerging trends in Louisiana over the past year have had some residents asking themselves: what in the world are kids doing snorting "bath salts"? Well, we aren't talking about the lavender, vanilla, and other aromatherapeutic muscle soaks that you've probably seen on the shelves of your local spa. "Bath salts" is the street name for mephedrone, a designer drug that emerged in late 2010 and rapidly became a problem for law enforcement, hospitals, and psychiatric facilities in Louisiana. A synthetic stimulant that provides a high similar to that of methamphetamine or cocaine, mephedrone is also known as "meph," "drone," MCAT," or as "Bubbles" or "Meow Meow" in the U.K., and it can be snorted, smoked, injected, or taken orally. In its white powder form, mephedrone does in fact resemble bath salts, and with "not for human consumption" and "plant food" labels on the packets sold in convenience stores, on the Internet, and on the street, the drug initially bypassed FDA regulation.
Then, in late 2010, calls started pouring into Louisiana Poison Control offices. According to the Office of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, between the end of September of that year and January 6, 2011, Louisiana Poison Control received 156 calls from people encountering the drug's toxic effects. Eighty-five percent of these calls came from emergency-room physicians and EMT's who were dealing with mephedrone abusers suffering from extreme paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, agitation, chest pain, headache, hypertension, and suicidal thoughts. Law enforcement authorities began to report encounters with abusers who had become violent and highly erratic in behavior.
According to info on bath salts in Louisiana and other states provided by the Pat Moore Foundation, mephedrone's initial discovery occurred in 1929, although it was not "re-discovered" as a substance for manufacture until 2003. Sweden and Israel were the first countries to make the drug illegal, in 2008, at a time when it was still being sold legally in Australia, the U.K., Finland, and Denmark. Mephedrone was made illegal throughout the E.U. in 2010—the same year that distribution began to affect the U.S. in dramatic ways. With its disproportionate number of cases of mephedrone abuse—the 156 calls mentioned above constituted fifty-seven percent of the total reported nationwide—it seemed that the state of Louisiana was serving as a major conduit for distribution of mephedrone throughout the country. Governor Jindal added the drug to the state's Controlled Dangerous Substance Act in January 2011, making it illegal to possess, manufacture, or distribute it in Louisiana. While it was still legal to sell in much of the rest of America as "bath salts" or "plant food" for most of 2011, the Drug Enforcement Agency used its emergency authority in October of that year to outlaw mephedrone, enacting a twelve-month ban that is eligible for a six-month extension. At present, the Department of Health and Human Services is laying groundwork for a permanent law banning mephedrone.
Baton Rouge drug rehabs and as well as other facilities in nearby cities will most likely sigh collectively in relief when such a law passes.
In the meantime, those who choose to illegally abuse the drug are essentially playing "Russian Roulette" with their health—and potentially their lives. Jeff Gordon, Lead Counselor of the Narconon Louisiana Retreat, says that mephedrone's intense and sometimes terrifying hallucinogenic effects lead some users to endanger their own lives. The long-term effects of mephedrone abuse are still unknown.