Last year in 2012 the US saw the widespread proliferation of a group of dangerous synthetic drugs called bath salts. These drugs gained more and more traction in the United States along with synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs, and in many cases, produced bizarre and horrific behavior in those who took them. Some of the more extreme actions were highly publicized, such as a woman abusing her toddler before succumbing to a heart attack; a man who stood poised to kill his family after ripping the hinges off the door to the room where they hid for protection; another man who threatened a five-year-old with a knife; and a woman who went after her mother with a machete.

Bath salts were easily obtained through stores and internet purchase, and were considered by many drug users to be a perfect alternative to cocaine and expensive prescriptions. Bath salts are not one singular drug; rather a group of substances with similar chemical makeup. Users never really know exactly what they’re taking and-as has been illustrated by the aforementioned cases-are vulnerable to prolonged episodes of psychotic and delusional paranoia. Physical effects include dangerously high blood pressure and adrenaline level, as well as chest pain. Although law enforcement and community involvement have forced the emerging bath salts operation out of the spotlight, thousands are now left with residual addictions for which they need urgent and comprehensive care. It’s entirely possible that the developers of bath salts are just biding their time and developing a new and equally dangerous permutation of designer drug.

The worst episodes have been experienced by those who quickly ingest the entire pouch of bath salts. The sudden and quick assault of psychoactive stimulation causes the brain and body to go into panic mode, which usually means overheating, extreme panic attacks, dangerous behavior, mood swings and an overload of the central nervous system. This inhibits, or simply deprives, a person from sleeping which brings a whole new assortment of psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, irritability and even psychosis. Perhaps the most dangerous component to the bath salts epidemic was the unpredictable and horrific range of effects of the drugs. As a population, we only knew what they were capable of when something awful happened.

Central New York and other areas of the Northeast were hit especially hard by the tidal wave of bath salts abuse; however the problem raised awareness throughout the whole country. As nationwide crackdowns appear to have stalled the development and distribution of these drugs, we’re left with an illuminating, and perhaps tragic revelation: if it wasn’t bath salts, it could have very easily been something else. This is why it’s critical for addiction care and mental health experts to constantly stay abreast of what new drugs are threatening their community and the country as a whole, and extensively research their physical and behavioral effects to offer relevant and substantive treatment.