Medical examiner says designer drug “bath salts” found in body

A designer drug laced with chemical compounds that produce an amphetamine-like high that is being marketed as so-called “bath salts” was detected in a body for the first time last month by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office, an official said.

The products look like bath salts and are marketed as such on websites based in Europe.

Unlike legitimate bath salts —- which do not contain the compounds, called simulated cathinones —- the bath salts sold online and in smoke shops produce a methamphetamine- and Ecstacy-like high when snorted, injected or smoked.

The drugs cause users to feel alert, euphoric and more aware of their senses, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Like other stimulants, cathinones can be addictive, and reportedly have caused panic attacks and a host of health problems, including hypertension, high blood pressure, nose bleeds, dizziness and erratic behavior.

At least 28 states reportedly have banned bath salts. Earlier this year, Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, introduced Assembly Bill 486, which would ban the products in California.

The body of a middle-aged man tested positive for the compounds in early July, said Dr. Iain McIntyre, chief toxicologist for the medical examiner’s office. He said it is the first positive test for the substances since the lab began screening for them in late May.

“We had heard about it (‘bath salt’ products) through various conferences and scientific meetings, and decided to see if we could test for it here with our current methods,” McIntyre said. “Turns out we can.”

The office developed a way to test for three compounds —- mephedrone, naphyrone, and methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV —- using a drug screen it already runs in 40 to 60 percent of the roughly 2,500 accidental or unexpected deaths it investigates each year, McIntyre said.

The cause and manner of the unnamed man’s death had not been determined, and it was unknown whether the drugs contributed to his death, McIntyre said. The specifics of the man’s case will not be available until the autopsy report is complete, McIntyre said.

A handful of deaths had been attributed to the compounds worldwide as of March, according to drug and chemical evaluation materials produced by the the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control.

But abuse of bath salt products appears to be increasing in the United States, according to a report the DEA released in April.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported poison centers took 303 calls about synthetic cathinones in 2010, according to the association’s website.

Between Jan. 1 and July 7 of this year, it had taken 3,740 calls.

Law enforcement also reported seeing more of the drug, according to the report.

In 2009, the National Forensic Information System received 14 reports of seized and analyzed “bath salt” drugs from law enforcement agencies in eight states, according to the report. Last year, the system received 290 reports from 21 states.

Escondido police were aware bath salts were being sold in the city, but the department had not launched any major criminal investigations or made arrests, officials said.

Small, 750 mg containers of powder “bath salt” products marketed under brand names Extreme and Miami Heat were for sale for about $10 in North County smoke shops.

“Not for human consumption” was printed at the top of both products’ labels, a disclaimer that frees them of federal Food and Drug Administration rules that would force manufacturers to list ingredients.

The same is true for chemical-laced plant products that are marketed as “incense,” but commonly smoked for a marijuana-like high. Earlier this year, the DEA banned several synthetic cannabinoid compounds that had been used to make products such as Spice and K2. Such “incense” products are widely sold in smoke shops across the nation —- including North County.

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