MARQUETTE - Authorities are continuing to warn residents about a dangerous substance being marketed as "bath salts" even after a Marquette County Health Department emergency order banning the sale of it.
The health department, in coordination with the Marquette City Police Department and emergency personnel at Marquette General Hospital, issued an emergency order banning the sale of the substance which goes under the brand names White Rush, Cloud 9, Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge Plus, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove and White Dove.
According to health department officials, the crystalline powder may contain a number of synthetic chemicals including methylmethcathinone or methylenedioxyprovalerone, both of which are strong stimulants that can cause increased heart rate, chest pains, dizziness, delusions and panic attacks.
"Basically it causes people to experience a psychological wasteland," said Dr. Scott Emerson, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician at MGH. "They get paranoid and agitated and that's one of the worst problems because it can cause violent behavior and misinterpret normal environmental cues as threatening when they're not, which is always dangerous. And it causes profound insomnia."
Emerson said the substance is so new, doctors and others aren't quite sure what it is. And that makes treating it very difficult.
"These people are using themselves as guinea pigs when they choose to experiment with this," he said. "It's a very bad high."
Since the beginning of January there have been about 20 cases of people experiencing effects from the drug coming through the MGH emergency room, Emerson said.
"If you use this you're very likely to wind up in the hospital. It's not where these people, I don't think, want to be," he said.
In addition to cases seen in Houghton, there has been one death in Marquette County possibly linked to the substance.
"The medical examiner's report has not been concluded, but we believe he was using this product at the time he exhibited symptoms and passed on," said Fred Benzie, director of the health department. "There may be other circumstances contributing to his death, but we won't know for sure until the report comes out."
The substance is nothing like commercial bath salts people use in bath tubs. Emerson said it is probably manufactured in an advanced laboratory and marketed as bath salts and labeled as "not for human consumption" to get around legal issues. It is sold online, at head shops, convenience stores and on the streets.
Emerson said people using the substance may experience days of insomnia, exhibit dilated pupils, compulsive water drinking, grinding of teeth and repetitive behavior like repeated hand-washing.
Benzie said the substance effects more people than just those who use it. He said there have been many cases of young parents between the ages of 26 and 36 exhibiting the effects of the drug. When those people are brought into the emergency room sometimes there is no one to look after their children.
"This was a rising catastrophe on both the emergency room and medical care community, law enforcement and the social service system in Marquette County," he said.
Since the health department's emergency order, the ER has seen a sharp decline in the number of "bath salts" cases.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org