A woman found raving and naked in a Waterville drainage pipe. A Bangor man who died in custody after threatening bystanders, running into the side of a truck, and being arrested. A man in Lincoln experiencing paranoid delusions and attempting to break into businesses at 2:30 in the morning.
What do these cases have in common? According to law enforcement, they're all connected to "bath salts" — a new synthetic drug that's been on the Maine market for less than a year but has wreaked havoc in that time.
Fear not, you lucky ones who often have time for relaxing soaks. These are not your lavender-scented tub seasonings. They're hardcore hallucinogens, packaged under names like "Ivory Wave," "Rave On," "Cloud Nine," or "Monkey Dust," and usually containing the chemicals mephedrone or Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV. Until recently, it was possible to find "bath salts" (so-labeled to circumvent legal regulations) in head shops, gas stations, and convenience stores.
Not anymore. Governor Paul LePage signed emergency legislation on July 6, establishing a $350 fine for possession of bath salts and outlining penalties for its trafficking, including jail time for repeat offenses. Some Maine police departments, including those in South Portland, Lewiston, and Auburn, created information packets and distributed them to businesses, letting them know that possessing or selling bath salts is now illegal.
Still, the drugs, which arrived in the southern US before spreading northward, are widely available on the Internet (for about $25-50 per 50 milligrams). And they spread quickly.
"All of a sudden in the late winter we started seeing cases," says Karen Simone, a toxicologist who is the director of the Northern New England Poison Control Center in Portland. "By the time we hit May and June it was just exploding and we were getting one to three calls a day from hospitals."
"We just — boom — all of a sudden saw it," concurs South Portland police chief Ed Googins, who serves as president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. "Every community right now is being confronted by this. It's become the rage. I don't think we truly know the scope of the problem."
What police officers, doctors, and emergency room personnel do know, however, is how users are affected by the drug, which can be snorted, eaten, smoked, or injected. In addition to paranoia, hallucinations, and violent behavior, the bath salts can induce increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and internal body temperature, as well as muscle breakdown and liver damage. Bad-trippers are difficult to subdue (some patients have to be put into comas, Simone says) and the effects are lasting. The medical director of MaineGeneral Medical Center's emergency departments told the Morning Sentinel that in the case of one patient, "even after a few days, the person could barely speak."
"This is not some K2," Simone says, referring to another designer drug with properties similar to pot. "This is completely different. In my mind this is worse than coke and meth . . . I don't get at all why anyone would want to use this." She encourages people with questions about bath salts to call the poison control center at 800.222.1222.