wave of madness
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Wave of Madness
August, 2012, Page 24
Photo by Nicole Roegner
Despite a marketing whitewash and new state laws, “bath salts” remain Arizona’s latest dangerous designer drug of choice – and a thriving local industry.
It was like Silence of the Lambs meets The Walking Dead. Last Memorial Day weekend, Rudy Eugene, 31, was running naked through the sunny streets of Miami, swinging from the top of a light pole on the MacArthur causeway. Minutes later, a surveillance camera captured Eugene stripping a homeless man named Ronald Poppo naked and bending over him. What happened next would horrify the nation: Eugene bit into Poppo’s face and spit large, bloody chunks of his flesh on the ground. By the time police officers arrived, Eugene had gouged out one of Poppo’s eyes and gnawed off his nose and half of his face. When Eugene didn’t comply with commands to stop, officers fatally shot him.
News of the appalling assault went viral, spawning widespread headlines of “cannibalism” and “zombie apocalypse” – macabre gibes so prevalent the national Centers for Disease Control issued a statement denying the existence of a “zombie virus.” But the prime point of speculation from Florida law enforcement and media was that Eugene was possibly under the influence of a designer drug known as “bath salts.”
Eugene’s autopsy revealed undigested pills in his stomach, but his toxicology reports had not been released at press time, so the sources of his violent behavior remain unknown. But local authorities and toxicologists who’ve observed people under the influence of bath salts say extremely aggressive behavior is a common side effect. “The behavior with bath salts is more parallel to PCP, in my mind, because of just the crazed nature of it,” says Sergeant Tony Landato of Mesa PD. “It’s not just someone who’s a little more hyper or kind of crazy – it’s like they’re really out there.”
Whether or not bath salts played a role in the Miami attack, they’re causing plenty of chaos in Arizona, which, based on DEA information and proprietary sales figures, may be the biggest distributor of bath salts in the nation. What’s more, according to one former dealer, the salts are affordable, accessible, and legal. Despite recent legislative attempts at both federal and state levels to curb the sale of bath salts, statistics show a rising wave of use with no crest in sight. In Arizona last year, 247 cases of bath salts exposure were reported to Banner Good Samaritan Poison Control and Drug Information Center, compared with two exposures reported in 2010.
Dr. Frank LoVecchio, a toxicologist who treated some of those patients, has seen rashes of bath salts users in rock-bottom condition. “One weekend… we had about a half dozen people who had to be sedated and required medication that we often use to do anesthesia on people – general anesthesia,” he says. “In other words, they were so combative, had they not gotten [treatment], they would have just died of heat stroke or heat-related illness or other issues.”
LoVecchio recalls one patient whose frenzied state was eerily similar to Eugene’s streak through the Miami streets. “He was running around – naked – very, very agitated, and he was subdued by the cops. They were trying to control him, and he was tazed by them,” LoVecchio says. “He was paralyzed, controlled, sedated, and he took a day or two to wake up. But he did not even remember the cops arresting him, he didn’t remember getting tazed, he didn’t remember any of it. And it was just, like, really insane.”
Photos - Clock-wise from top left:
July 2011 - Johnny Salazar of Chandler was arrested after reportedly burning his 5-year-old son’s hand because the child touched a Bible. Salazar told police he was under the influence of bath salts, hallucinating, and that he believed his son was possessed by demons. Police confiscated a gun, a knife, some pills, and three vials of bath salts during Salazar’s arrest.
September 2011 - Mesa police caught a man named Kent Humphrey trying to steal a car; he was arrested after refusing to surrender and throwing soda cans at the cops. It reportedly took eight officers to subdue him, and it was later confirmed Humphrey had consumed bath salts.
September 2011 - Gilbert police attempted a traffic stop on Hashaun Houston of Phoenix. Houston stopped the vehicle briefly, sped forward, threw the car in reverse, jumped out and ran – leaving the vehicle to roll backwards and collide with the police car. According to the police report, Houston said he’d been smoking bath salts for two days.
June 2012 - A Mesa man named Nathan Ritchey was arrested at Banner Desert Medical Center after spraying hospital employees with a fire extinguisher. Police said Ritchey was an admitted drug addict prone to blackouts who had been seeking treatment for bath salts.
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