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Overdosing on 'Bath Salts': Designer Drug a Headache for Retailers

Mar 16, 2011 – 12:01 PM
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It's the type of gewgaw you might find at a place called Bed, Bath and Way Way Beyond -- a dangerous new recreational drug intentionally mislabeled "bath salts" that's sowing confusion and concern among retailers of traditional bath salts and soaks.

The drug, a white powder sold in 2-ounce packets, was until recently available legally at gas stations and head shops around the country. However, after a rash of bath-salt overdoses in Florida and Louisiana, the drug has been banned in at least 25 states.

In mid-January, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced legislation to ban bath salts nationwide.

bath salts, drug,
Rogelio V. Solis, AP
Retailers of all-natural bath salts are not amused by their products' association with a dangerous synthetic drug marketed as bath salts. Above, Mississippi authorities display fake bath salts in late January.
The identity theft of their product has left suppliers and retailers of legitimate bath salts scrambling to distance themselves from the drug while reassuring the public that their products are safe.

While traditional bath salts contain little more than sea salt and benign perfuming agents, the impostor contains MDPV, a drug with effects similar to methamphetamine and cocaine.

It remains unclear just how the latter got its name.

"The bath salt is not a drug," said Lee Williamson, president of the San Francisco Bath Salt Co., in a phone interview with AOL News. "We're trying to re-create the effects of the ocean. These products that go $120 for 2 ounces -- that should raise some red flags."

The San Francisco Bath Salt Co. has issued two press releases since the beginning of the year attempting to ease consumer fears. One release states that it's important for consumers to know "that you cannot get high on actual bath salts such as those offered by the San Francisco Bath Salt Company or any other reputable bath and body company."

Williamson believes the media is in part to blame for all the confusion, saying, "Journalists are dwelling on the negative. They're making it look as though everyone's snorting sea salt."

Chaundra Smith, owner of Naturally Me, a bath and beauty product supplier in Durham, N.C., is equally concerned. She plans to send out a newsletter telling customers that if they can't pronounce what's in a package of bath salts or read the label, the product isn't a natural bath salt.

"The other day, someone asked me about whether [authorities] were banning bath salts," Smith told AOL News, "and I said, 'No, no, no. Not the real bath salts.' "

Bogus bath salts first came to the attention of authorities in the South in September when the drug brought on a wave of psychotic episodes in users.

In November, a 21-year-old Louisiana man slit his own throat, believing that police cars and helicopters had encircled him. Though the man survived, he would kill himself two days later with a gunshot to the head.

Another user took a skinning knife to his face and stomach, but managed to survive.

While the drug is typically snorted or smoked, some bathers have wondered just what would happen if, amid the confusion, they were to soak in it.

"If someone ever did mistakenly use the drug to take a soak, the drug would be diluted by about 30 gallons of water, and I doubt anyone would be hurt by it," suggested Williamson.

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Sasha Graham, 40, of New York City, enjoys a weekly soak in bath salts. Though surprised to hear that a dangerous synthetic drug was being mislabeled as bath salts, she has little fear of accidentally bathing in MDPV.

"As long as they're not swapping out or 'roofie-ing' up the product, I'm not going to worry," she said.

For what Graham lacks in trepidation, however, she makes up for with sympathy.

"The whole idea behind bath salts is to help people relax, and this is doing the opposite," she stated. "How tragically weird."

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