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Professional warns first responders about dangers of bath salts

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CANTON - Bath salts and other synthetic drugs have skyrocketed across the country in the past several years, and law enforcement officials are struggling to keep up.

Clinical psychologist Elizabeth M. Berry spoke to a room full of police officers and first responders at SUNY Canton Thursday morning to inform them of the dangers posed by these new drugs and what can be done to stop them.

Bath salts are “designer drugs” that first gained popularity in Britain and migrated to the United States in 2009. When taken in small doses they can create a euphoric, relaxed feeling, but they have also gained notoriety for causing violence, hallucinations and paranoia.

Dr. Berry has seen the effect of these drugs, and many others, first-hand while working with chemical dependency patients at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse.

“It’s important for me to keep up on the current trends, and this one is huge,” she said.

The bath salts that have police concerned are nothing like epsom salts or other products which are actually meant to be used in the bath, but many do not realize the difference, Ms. Berry said. Sales of epsom salts actually increased once illicit bath salts began to be covered in the news.

Syracuse has been hit especially hard by the new craze. At the peak of their popularity, the Crouse emergency room would treat between four to six patients daily for bath salts overdoses, although these rates have dropped since the drugs received widespread media attention earlier this year.

Patients who have consumed a toxic amount of bath salts can have temperatures up to 107 degrees.

“It’s like cooking from the inside,” Dr. Berry said.

Finding and prosecuting synthetic drug users is difficult for law enforcement agencies. There are very few tests that detect their presence and the only ones that exist take over a month to show results.

Donald D. Thompson, an emergency medical technician, knows how to handle patients high on cocaine or heroin, but when he started to respond to calls to treat those who were high on bath salts he realized that he still had plenty to learn.

“The trouble is, I don’t know what I’m looking for,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”

If detecting the drugs is tough, getting them off the streets is even harder. They can be bought online or legally in head shops. They are marketed as “not for human consumption,” despite the fact that they are usually used for that purpose. Every time one chemical combination is outlawed, dozens more enter the market.

“As quickly as we find them, the manufacturers of these drugs are finding new ones,” Dr. Berry said.

As law enforcement has cracked down and the public has become aware of the negative side effects that accompany bath salts, their popularity has started to decline, Dr. Berry said. It is possible that the end of the trend is approaching, but just as one set of designer drugs loses popularity another becomes poised to take its place. Synthetic marijuana use has been on the rise since 2008.

“Synthetic drugs are here to stay,” Dr. Berry said.

Canton and the surrounding area have not seen the same problems with synthetic drugs as Syracuse, but interim Canton Police Chief Victor N. Rycroft has no doubt that they will soon find their way to the area. He hopes that by educating the public, as well as law enforcement and medical professionals, that the problem can be contained.

Dr. Berry’s lecture was recorded, and will be used to teach new recruits at the police academy at SUNY Canton.

“We’re going to have to stay on our toes,” Mr. Rycroft said.

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