Bath salts, synthetic drugs a factor in several recent crimes; new varieties pop up constantly

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PHOENIX -- It seems like you can't watch or read the news without encountering some mention of bath salts these days. These synthetic drugs are everywhere, and they're taking a serious toll on communities not just throughout the country, but right here in Arizona, too.

Bath salts seem to be a factor in more and more bizarre and violent crimes.

"People should know that these 'bath salts,' as they're called, aren't really bath salts," explained Shelly Mowrey of Partnership for a Drug-Free America's Arizona affiliate. "It's a complete misnomer. That Calgon that you have in the bathroom isn't what these people are using to get high. It's a synthetic drug -- like a synthetic meth, LSD, PCP.

"What's so dangerous about these, quite frankly, is that there are so many of them," Mowrey continued. "The minute that you ban some of these synthetic drugs, another one pops up."

In early 2012, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an emergency ban on certain synthetic drugs.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed a law banning the sale, production and possession of more than two dozen different synthetic drugs, referred to collectively as bath salts.

Those two dozen drugs, however, are just the tip of the iceberg.

"The moment you start to regulate one of them, they'll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"We're just constantly trying to keep up with the number of different synthetic drugs that are out there because it's infinite right now," Mowrey said.

Because only certain chemicals in the bath salts are banned, it's difficult for law-enforcement to crack down.

Not only synthetic drugs are relatively easy to get, even for kids and teens, they do not show up in traditional drug tests. While that may be part of the appeal for users, it's a nightmare for first responders and emergency-room doctors.

"[Users are] taking it [bath salts] because they expect to have euphoria and feel good and be able to party and get high," explained Dr. Ravi Chandiramani of Journey Healing Centers. "There are a lot of side effects that come with that -- agitation, paranoia, delusions, violent tendencies."

In addition to the serious symptoms above, Chandiramani said ERs and Journey Healing Centers have even seen cases of psychosis stemming from use of bath salts.

"These are young kids that should not be psychotic," he said in April.

Chandiramani also said that bath salts can cause a person's core temperature to rise, prompting them to strip down as we've seen in several instances.

According to Chandiramani, the effects of bath salts peak about 90 minutes after ingestion although the drug can stay in the system for up to 12 hours.

"The dose tends to be cumulative, so we know more of the side effects occur with greater doses," he said.

Bath-salts related calls to poison-control centers have jumped. Chandiramani said there have been several thousand this year.

The synthetic drugs commonly called bath salts go by several other seemingly innocuous names, including plant food, glass cleaner and stain remover.

Mowrey said back-to-school time is the perfect opportunity to talk to kids about the inherent dangers of synthetic drugs. She says it's an essential conversation, but it's not just a one-time thing.

"Start the conversation early and often," she said when talkign about teen marijuana use in May.

The same advice applies when it comes to synthetic drugs.

"Research shows that children who learn a lot about the risks of drugs and drinking from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use," according to

The site offers a variety of resources to help parents talk with their kids.