An expert on excited delirium is reaching out through Force Science News for first-hand accounts from officers who have encountered suspects high on so-called “bath salts.”
At least one LEO—a sheriff’s deputy from Mississippi, responding to a disturbance call—has been killed, reportedly by an offender under the influence of psychoactive bath salts. In that case, 6 men allegedly were needed to subdue the assailant, who at one point broke free of heavy medical tape and straps binding him to a gurney.
Other abusers of this latest “designer” drug have also exhibited dangerously out-of-control behavior that is very similar to what officers have confronted in trying to deal with ED subjects. These cases include:
- An indiscriminate drug experimenter who wrote a letter to a newspaper warning others to steer clear of bath salts after he repeatedly slashed his face and abdomen with a skinning knife while under their influence.
- A middle-aged female who burst into her mother’s bedroom, swinging a machete and “trying to kill” the elderly woman. This, after she spoke of “hearing voices,” raced “back and forth to the window to see who was outside,” and dug frantically in her backyard in search of “jewels.”
- An extended skirmish in which a would-be burglar was Tasered twice—and twice yanked out probes while continuing to fight violently. “The guy was an animal,” the involved officer said. “In 8 years on the job, I’ve never dealt with anybody like that—never. He still had a lot of fight in him when we had him handcuffed.”
- A 21-year-old male, the son of 2 physicians, who slashed his throat, then shot and killed himself after 3 sleepless days and nights on a bath salts high. Paranoid and intermittently delirious, the last night he hallucinated that the family’s house was surrounded by police helicopters and dozens of squad cars.
Like ED subjects, bath salts abusers in worst-case scenarios exhibit signs of profound paranoia, agitation, hallucination, super strength and energy, exceptionally high pain tolerance, cognitive disconnection from their immediate environment, and potentially lethal combativeness and aggression toward themselves or others, says researcher Chris Lawrence. Recognized as one of the leading law enforcement authorities on ED and in-custody death, Lawrence is an instructor at Canada’s Ontario Police College and a faculty member for the Force Science Institute’s certification course in Force Science Analysis.
“Right now, most of what the policing community at large knows about the bath salts problem is what’s been said in the media,” Lawrence told FSN recently. “I want to hear from officers who’ve been directly involved so we can identify recurring themes from a broad sector and begin to establish the nature and parameters of this kind of event.”
Ultimately, the goal is to help officers protect themselves and innocent civilians while dealing with afflicted subjects as a medical emergency that requires prompt intervention by medical professionals, Lawrence says. “Similar to ED, the outcome is uncertain and whether or not the subject will survive the event cannot be predicted.”
He touched on the bath salts problem recently in a presentation on ED during a mental health conference sponsored by the Delaware State Police.
“The ‘bath salts’ we’re talking about aren’t what you’d buy at Walgreen’s or see advertised on TV from legitimate manufacturers,” Lawrence points out. Instead, they’re packets or containers of fine-grained powder or crystals typically sold online and at head shops, truck stops, discount tobacco stores, gas stations, pawnshops, tattoo parlors, and convenience stores under a variety of brand names such as Blizzard, Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom, Bliss, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow, Charge+, White Knight, Pure Ivory, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Scarface, Snow Leopard, Star Dust, Ocean Burst, and Hurricane Charlie. Sometimes the product is marketed as plant food or herbal incense, as well as a “soothing” bath additive.
“It’s marked as ‘not for human consumption,’ which removes the product from drug regulation,” Lawrence explains. “Because of certain synthetic stimulants in the powder—pyrovalerone, mephedrone and the chemical MDPV—the ‘salts’ can produce a high somewhat akin to methamphetamine or cocaine when snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected.”
Poison control centers and ERs, particularly in the South, have reported sharp spikes recently in overdose distress calls and visits related to bath salts. Some states and municipalities have banned the product, but in most it is still legal and use appears to be rapidly spreading.
“If you haven’t encountered this yet, you soon may,” Lawrence says.
In terms of field reports, he would appreciate receiving the following information from officers who’ve dealt first-hand with persons known or suspected of abusing bath salts substances:
- Brief narrative of the incident
- Agency name [confidential; asked only to identify possible duplications. Officer name(s) not necessary]
- Event specifics: date; time started; indoor or outdoor; subject age, gender, height, weight
- Subject descriptors (yes or no on these elements):
- Unusual behavior
- Violent behavior
- Pain tolerance
- Constant/near constant activity
- Lack of responsiveness to police presence
- Superhuman strength
- Rapid breathing
- Lack of fatigue
- Nakedness/inappropriate clothing
- Profuse sweating
- Tactile hyperthermia (hot to the touch)
- Attraction to glass
- Did suspect survive? If not, what were circumstances of death.
- Was subject taken to hospital?
- Were police or public injured or killed?
- What worked/didn’t work in controlling the incident.
Send your data to Lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ll report further on this as warranted. Meanwhile, for media accounts of the problem, Google “bath salts abuse.” You’ll get more than 25,000 references in less than a second.