"It's truly scary," said Mark Ryan of Louisiana Poison Control. "This stuff has literally consumed my work days since the middle of October. We need to do something. It's out of hand."
The fake products are usually manufactured in parts of Europe, China and India and sold in individual bags -- about $20 for a 2-gram pouch -- on the Internet, in convenience stores and on the street. They come branded with names like Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge +, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove, Cloud-9 and White Dove.
The active agent is usually the stimulant mephedrone, which comes in the form of tablets or a powder that users can swallow, snort or inject, producing similar effects to MDMA, amphetamines and cocaine. The packaging usually contains a winking disclaimer that the product is not for human consumption.
The powders cause intense cravings for more even though they can trigger extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, hypertension and, as in the case of Jarrod Moody, suicidal thoughts, said Ryan. "Guys are showing up with bizarre symptoms," he tells ABC News.
"Anxiety off the charts, blood pressure high enough to blow an aorta," he said. "Some were combative, some were extremely paranoid -- monsters and demons and talking to God and aliens coming to get their family. But the cravings are similar to crack, so they keep doing it."
The long-term effects of the drug are still unknown -- no testing has ever been done on humans -- but unlike cocaine or even chrystal meth, these phony bath salts do not metabolize in just a few hours. "It truly looks like a psychotic break," said Ryan.
Last week six chemicals most commonly found in the products were outlawed by emergency order in Louisiana, where the majority of the cases are ocurring. Anyone convicted of selling them will face penalties equivalent to the selling of heroin, said Gov. Bobby Jindal in an announcement.
But knockoff stimulants such as these are only the latest problem to vex authorities. In November the Drug Enforcement Agency published a notice of intent to outlaw five chemicals most commonly found in a range of "synthetic marijuana blends," or synthetic cannabinoids. The outlaw has not yet taken effect nationally, but 16 states have so far banned the drugs.
Cleverly marketed as incense (with product names like K2, Spice, K4 Cush, Mr. Nice Guy and others), these drug gained popularity recently as an alternative to marijuana that does not show up in tests. It may also cause anxiety, vomiting or seizures. In all of 2009 there were 14 cases of synthetic marijuana reported to U.S. poison centers. In 2010 that number was 2,863.
"It's like a game of Russian Roulette. You don't know how people are going to react to it," said Tony Scalzo of the Missouri Poison Center, who remains wary of the DEA's plan to ban five chemicals most common drug. "There are hundreds of different canabinoids. So the DEA bans five of them, there are 50 of them that they could replace them with."
Indeed, savvy pushers and chemists are often able to stay one step ahead of the law, said Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the DEA. By altering the molecular structure of a banned chemical, they can create a new compound that does more or less the same thing and isn't covered by a ban.