Amped, a new type of synthetic drug that falls into the street category of "bath salts," is being used by people in Virginia to get high, and likely in other parts of the country as well.
The drug is touted as a ladybug attractant, but at least six cases of people ingesting the chemical compound have been reported in Eastern and Central Virginia, according to Dr. Rutherfoord Rose, director of the Virginia Poison Center.
Amped is only the latest of these bath salts to hit the web and convenience stores. Others, such as "Zoom," Cloud Nine," and "Ivory Wave" are similar recreational drugs that have amphetamine-like qualities. They increase blood pressure and heart rate, and many people have experienced paranoia, violent behavior, hallucinations and delusions while high, Rose said. Some users have even committed suicide while on the drug.
"Despite laws that have outlawed certain chemicals within these drugs, chemists easily change a chemical or molecule within the compound to give it a similar or more potent property, and, because it is a different chemical entity, it is no longer illegal," said Rose.
The drugs are often disguised as incense, plant foods and cleaners. They carry warning labels that caution against human consumption, and the label notes the illegal ingredients that are not in the compound, but it does not actually list the ingredients that are in it.
People can smoke, snort or even inject the bath salts. On one website that sells the bath salt, a one-gram container costs $34.95.
In 2011, the American Association of Poison Control Centers said there were 6,138 calls regarding exposure to bath salts, up from 304 in 2010.
"This is becoming a public health problem," said Rose. "These street chemists are probably getting three or four more products ready to come out for when the other ones go off the market or get outlawed. Unless we get smart enough to outlaw all the chemicals at one time, this is just going to continue on."
What the people taking these drugs don't understand, Rose said, is that the chemicals can easily put a person in the emergency room or even kill. Unless patients can articulate exactly what they took, it is difficult for emergency department physicians to figure out what exactly has been ingested. And even with the name of specific bath salts, the brands often test differently with different chemical compounds in different parts of the country.
"These drugs are a time bomb," said Rose. "It's like playing Russian Roulette."