NEW ORLEANS -- Dangerous new drugs are being sold as fake bath salts, fake fertilizer or fake insect repellent -- and sending drug abusers to emergency rooms around the country after snorting or smoking them, poison center officials say.
At least 84 people in Louisiana have been hospitalized because of paranoia, fighting, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and physical effects such as hypertension and rapid heartbeat -- most for a day or two but at least three of them for weeks, said Mark Ryan, head of the Louisiana Poison Center.
Although they're labeled as bath products or even poison, always including the warning "Not for human consumption," word on the street and the Internet is that they can be sniffed as "legal cocaine" or "legal speed," said Henry A. Spiller, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Center in Louisville.
"These are experienced drug users ... There's a lot of things they'll suffer for the drug high they're looking for," Spiller said. "Even these people are coming into the emergency room. Even they can't handle these fairly nasty effects."
He said several had tried to kill themselves, and others attacked friends or family.
Ryan said poison centers around the country have gotten 160 calls -- 91 of them in Louisiana -- about problems from mephedrone and MDPV, short for methylenedioxypyrovalerone.
The drugs have been sold over the Internet and on the street, in headshops and in convenience, gas station and truck stop stores, Ryan said.
Spiller, who bought some for analysis, said they cost $40 for about two-hundredths of an ounce.
"You and I know that Bath & Body Works would make a fortune if that's what they charged for real bath salts," he said.
Ryan said the marketing is similar to that for the synthetic marijuana called spice or K2. "It was being marketed as potpourri and incense. It was neither. It was meant to be smoked."
"This is an emerging health threat that needs to be taken seriously," Alvin C. Bronstein, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center and acting director of toxicosurveillance for the American Association of Poison Control Centers, said in a news release.
Ryan said other state poison centers have had a total of 69 calls about the drugs as of midday Wednesday: 19 in Kentucky, 13 in Florida, 12 in Mississippi, 10 in Missouri, six each in Tennessee and Texas, and four in Utah.
"Many of the people who came in described this as a really bad trip," Ryan said. "But because it causes such intense cravings, like methamphetamine, they keep using it."
Ryan said the products are illegal in the United Kingdom and a number of European countries. England outlawed them in April, according to the North Yorkshire Police website.
The powders are sold under names such as Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge plus, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove, Cloud 9 and White Dove, Ryan said.
It wasn't a big problem when it was sold only on the Internet, Spiller said. "The group we're getting it from is paying cash at the gas station, not using a credit card over the Internet."
"Their use is, by the blogs, to be snorted," Ryan said, adding that at least two Louisiana patients injected a drug and one tried to smoke it.
Ryan said users describe the drugs as many times more potent than Ritalin or cocaine.
"We don't know what concentrations these people are getting, much less how much they're taking. We're trying to get some of this stuff tested so we know for sure what we're dealing with," he said.
"Depending on how it's being made, and how crude it is, each batch or few batches may be a slightly different substance."