Designer Drugs on the Rise

On Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm, Producer Paris Schutz reports on the controversy over a dangerous and potentially lethal class of hallucinogenic drugs called “bath salts” that are for sale — legally — at Chicago-area stores and online. We spoke with the Medical Director at Hazelden Center for Youth and Families in Minneapolis, Joseph Lee, MD, about the increase in cases of people using synthetic drugs, including one that resulted in death.

Designer drugs that go by the name of “bath salts” are a type of stimulant or upper, like cocaine or an amphetamine. Users smoke, snort and inject the products. Popular names of these so-called “bath salts” are Cloud 9, Vanilla Sky and Ivory Wave.

Dr. Lee says he has seen an increase in patients using synthetic drugs. While bath salts are one type of drug on his radar, he says synthetic cannabis and synthetic hallucinogens are the most popular.

So why are people turning to these types of designer drugs? Dr. Lee says there are different types of people who use them.

“Some are kids who are aimlessly experimenting and lack discretion,” he said. “Then, there are kids who, for work or legal reasons, can’t use other illicit substances that may be detected on a drug screening, so they use synthetics.”

And yet another group are “young people who feel very knowledgeable about different chemicals and read things on the Internet, feel savvy and experiment with different things. It’s part of their thing.”

Dr. Lee says he has seen patients of all ages use synthetic drugs, but that it is most common under the age of 20.

As for warning signs, Dr. Lee says you “may not be able to differentiate people who are using bath salts from other illicit drug users.”

From limited reports, the word on the street is that bath salts tend to have psychological side effects that are far more common than other illicit substances.

“People can become psychotic, agitated and violent,” said Lee.

In Blaine, Minnesota, a 19-year-old man died after overdosing on 2C-E, a type of synthetic hallucinogen that can be legally bought online. He was at a party with others ages 16 to 21, many of whom were hospitalized with overdose symptoms from 2C-E but survived.

“Sometimes even experimenting with these substances can be very dangerous,” said Lee.

Lee says that teens at parties may try something once and not necessarily have an addiction.

“The real danger of these substances is that most of the items, when we think about drug use and young people, we wait for them to show signs of addiction,” said Lee.

And there is no real way to determine the potency of the synthetic drug or what may really be in it.

“A lot of these chemicals are made by amateurs,” said Lee. “There is no regulation or standardization. You don’t know what you’re taking or what’s in it.”

As for the Chicago area, Dr. Lee says, “The Midwest area is just as susceptible to bath salts and synthetic drugs as are other areas.”

For a Quick Facts Alert on “Bath Salts”, click here.

What do you think? Are you concerned about the rise of “designer drugs” on the market? Post your comments here or sound off on our discussion board.

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