SPRINGFIELD — Colleen K. Cook had used marijuana before, friends said, but three months ago she started snorting “bath salts” for a new thrill.
What Cook experienced, though, was prolonged bouts of paranoia that frightened her.
“She’s convinced people are following her. She’s convinced cameras are in her makeup compact; that cameras are in her shoes and in her car. And if you don’t believe her, she starts yelling and screaming,” her childhood friend, Connie Hiegel, said recently.
Cook’s behavior was brought on by “bath salts,” powerful synthetic stimulants that include a variety of chemicals sold in stores under a variety of street names such as Cloud Nine, Vanilla Sky and Ivory Wave.
At least eight states have outlawed the “bath salts,” and Ohio lawmakers are considering a similar action.
But the toxic substance touted as a cocaine substitute has be-come a public health threat that has law enforcement and health officials worried more youths will experiment with it and the number of people who die from it will climb before the substance is banned nationwide.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 302 calls about the product las year. This year, by May, the organization reported the number of calls about the drug had ballooned seven-fold to 2,237. It now ranks fourth among the most common concern of callers to poison control centers.
Heath Jolliff, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Control Center, said the agency receives one to two calls a day about the drug, which causes users to become paranoid and experience hallucinations.
As “bath salts” dominate headlines, locally, some stores have policed themselves and are refusing to sell the products while others have pulled the drug from shelves.
Dream Merchant Smokeshop and Tattoo on East Main Street sold “bath salts” for about sixth months, but stopped carrying them after management saw what the products were doing to their customers.
“I’d rather take the loss (in revenue) as opposed to the loss of people,” said Store Manager Kaye Kuhn.
Users became thin, careless and easily agitated, she said.
“It was like they had been on meth for a couple years.”
Mike Oendah, owner of the East Main Street Express Smoke Shop, refused to sell “baths salts” in his store. “I don’t care how much money I would make, I don’t need it (in my store),” Oendah said. “I have four kids and I care about people.”
“Bath salts,” which is sold in small packets or small containers, has been marketed as fertilizer, stain remover and insect repellent, Jolliff said. “I don’t think anybody who’s buying these products is buying them for these reasons and we don’t see any legitimate use of this product,” Jolliff said. “But it’s very addicting.”
The drug is at least psychologically addicting, but likely not physiologically addicting, said Dr. Charles Russell, who has treated two cases and heard of a third in the Springfield Regional Medical Center emergency room.
The drug can be snorted, smoked, injected or taken orally and users range in age from as young as teenagers to people in their mid-40s and 50s.