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'Fake' drugs, real danger

Agitation, high blood pressure, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, suicidal thoughts: would anyone be foolhardy enough to voluntarily experience these sensations?

Bath salts are not the mundane hygienic compound one would suppose. Bath salts are harmful - sometimes fatal - synthetic drugs that induce those kinds of sensations.

According to a new national survey, one in nine high school seniors admitted to using synthetic drugs, bath salts being a substantial portion of these.

That means, if Jefferson High School's 2012 graduating class fits this average, more than 30 students would have experimented with these noxious drugs.

Jim Munson, director of the New Visions drug treatment center in Alexandria, said "They are taking the country by storm."

The New Visions center works to help addicts recover from their substance abuse problems and reconnect with their lives, families and communities.

Munson said he has patients who have "more than experimented" with bath salts.

Munson compared the high of synthetic drugs and the more well-known drugs, such as methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine and pot. "There's a distortion...People are looking for euphoria."

What makes these dangerous drugs appealing? A few different factors may draw teenagers to this enigma: the nonchalance of the purchase and the sterilization of the exchange are two key contributors.

Unlike timeworn drugs like meth and narcotics, one need not travel to the unsafe slums of town and do business with criminals to obtain them. Bath salts can be conveniently found at climate-controlled shops, and the buyer can drive home without sweating at stoplights, praying they won't be caught.

"Even though there's all this public information, if they're selling it in a smoke shop, people will say, how bad can it be?" said Munson.

When asked if he believed they could be found in Alexandria, Munson responded confidently, "Oh, yeah."

But, don't ask for bath salts. Some common names include Crystal Bubbly, White Ivory, Purple Wave, Panic, Rushmore, etc. Sellers will post blatant signs refusing any customer who has "illegal intentions," and will display a warning on each product: "Not for human consumption."

Don't be fooled by the ubiquity and availability of synthetic drugs, health experts warn. They are just as harmful as their ill-reputed counterparts. Sometimes, they are even more dangerous.

Quality control is completely absent from production - there's no way of knowing what's going in your body. Calls to poison control pertaining to bath salts reached a towering 6,138 in 2011. Incidents involving bath salts ranged from a man skinning himself to death to a woman losing her arm due to bacterial infection.

In March, a Minnesota teenager died in Blaine after ingesting synthetic drugs.

Just this month, an 18-year-old was killed by synthetic drugs in Grand Forks.

Following a roundtable discussion, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar hosted on synthetic drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced its decision to ban chemicals commonly found in bath salts.

"Minnesota was on the forefront of this because, just like other states, we've seen more of these drugs, but we had a very tragic death with this child in Blaine," said Klobuchar about the DEA ban.

Munson, however, sees the industry growing for a while, at least. "Yeah, I think it'll grow...Eventually, they'll find ways to control it and it'll be replaced with something else.

"People are going to use drugs, regardless of what we do, forever," said Munson.

Munson believes family plays a key role in prevention and recovery. "People are much more likely to recover if they have family helping."