INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - A Noblesville mother, who captured video on her cell phone while her 14-year-old daughter cried and rocked back in forth in a hospital waiting room, said her daughter was not in her right mind after taking a drug that authorities say is a growing problem in the area: crystallized stimulant chemicals known as bath salts.
These are new, fly under the radar and, because they are labeled with names like bath salts or plant food, most parents have no idea the danger they pose if they find the small, colorful packages in their child's backpack.
Bath salts, jewelry cleaner, plant food, potpourri, incense and spice are some of the street names for the chemicals. They come in what look like harmless packages. They even say not for human consumption. But according to the Indiana State Police lab, people snort some like cocaine or meth and smoke others like marijuana.
The behind-the-counter deal has replaced the back-alley buy, and I-Team 8's hidden camera investigation had no trouble finding the goods.
It cost more than $37 for a container of "Mexican Jumping Beans" at an area store; I-Team 8 was able to buy these in store after store. No questions asked, no ID required.
Inside the small package were three pills containing a white powder. One store clerk read the instructions to our undercover buyer: "Add water to your Mexican jumping beans and watch them come to life!"
Another clerk went even further: "I'm telling you a little bit makes you jump far."
"Best seller is probably Mad Hatter," another store clerk said.
Another explained how to use it: "You smoke it, put it in a pipe and smoke it."
They were talking about potentially harmful chemicals that are fairly easy to find locally, but difficult for authorities to keep track of.
This year, Indiana became one of 33 states to ban so-called bath salts and spice. But I-Team 8 found that within weeks of that law being passed, new products were already on stores shelves to replace what was banned.
We took what we found to the Indiana State Police crime lab, where forensic scientist Hailey Newton has analyzed hundreds of samples of these new items
"Bath salts are being highly abused right now," she told I-Team 8.
Newton examined our sample, labeled "Mexican Jumping Beans," noting it's hard to tell what's legal and what's illegal just by looking at the pills.
"They all look the same, but they all actually could contain different drugs," she explained.
That's what makes the chemistry experiment so concerning. Chemicals inside the same packaging change ever so slightly to stay just above the law, while giving the user the same high – and presenting the same dangers.
"Even though the chemical structure may change a little bit, the clinical presentation of the person doesn't change that much," said Dr. Brent Furbee, the medical director at Indiana Poison Control.
Furbee said bath salts users have symptoms similar to those that meth users experience, including rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, agitation and disorientation.
"They come in, and they are so agitated that they require sedation just so we can control them," he said. "And we've had some people that require so much sedation that they had to be ventilated for a while, so they can wind up with an extensive hospital stay."
In 2009 there were no reported cases of adverse reactions to bath salts to poison control centers in the U.S. That changed in 2010, when there were more than 300. A year later, nearly 5,000 cases were reported. And that doesn't take into account cases that go unreported to poison control.
The jump in just one year is of a big concern for law enforcement officials, doctors and Indiana Poison Control.
"The bath salts may be worse than meth," Furbee said.
Some even equate bath salts' effects to those of meth and crack cocaine combined.
In August, an Indianapolis woman led police on a chase through Porter County, injuring one driver and then ramming three police cars. The police report says 29-year-old Britni Morrison "started laughing uncontrollably … then cried for no reason." According to the report, she admitted she "took bath salts" two hours before the whole ordeal. Police say she had a gun in the front seat.
Police say bath salts push users into insomnia, paranoia and hallucinations. Some have reported seeing demons, aliens and monsters, and some even say they have suicidal thoughts, the torment is so bad.
Families trying to stop it from happening to others have stepped forward with the names of those they said were pushed to suicide from bath salts.
Some of those victims include 36-year-old Denny Kurzhal of South Bend, 22-year-old Derick Quesenberry, who was a Virginia medical student, and 21-year-old Dickie Sanders of Florida, who was the son of a doctor.
It's hard to verify such claims here. The Marion County coroner's office doesn't test for bath salts when conducting an autopsy. Many coroners don't. But after a recent case and I-Team 8 asking questions, we are told that may be changing.
So are the
people selling these products aware of the dangers? We went to Fort Wayne to track down the owner of a chain of head shops named Twenty Past Four, where I-Team 8 bought several packages labeled "incense" and "Mexican Jumping Beans." The company's Chief Financial Officer Sherri Knisely spoke with I-Team 8.
Here is part of our conversation:
Karen: "What were people supposed to do with them then? They're used as a drug, right?"
Knisely: "We sold them as they were. What people do with them, I am not responsible for those other people."
And that's the legal gray area. Despite lawmakers' attempts to outlaw these types of products, those producing them can tweak the formulation to stay one step ahead of law enforcement efforts.
Kinsley said everything sold in her stores is legal.
"If I can make money in a slow economy and stay legal, here I am," she said.
Doctors said treating people who have taken the drugs can be difficult. The laws don't keep up with the drug formulations, and police are frustrated. They are such a new danger, the Drug Enforcement Administration stepped in two weeks ago and put bath salts under federal control with emergency scheduling, making it illegal to possess or sell the chemicals.
Through our investigation, I-Team 8 has uncovered manufacturers take advantage of a known loophole: They combine legal chemicals to make the drug, then label them not for human consumption, allowing them to bypass FDA and DEA standards.
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