The last four decades have seen plenty of whipped-up hysteria about various fad intoxicants of the moment. But the fear generated by bath salts seems well earned. Dr. Mark Ryan, director at the Louisiana Poison Center, called bath salts « the worst drug » he has seen in his 20 years there. « With LSD, you might see pink elephants, but with this drug, you see demons, aliens, extreme paranoia, heart attacks, and superhuman strength like Superman, » Ryan has said. « If you had a reaction, it was a bad reaction. »
Starting in late 2010, an influx of violent, irrational, self-destructive users began to congest hospital ERs throughout the States. A 19-year-old West Virginia man claimed he was high on bath salts when he stabbed his neighbor’s pygmy goat while wearing women’s underwear; a Mississippi man skinned himself alive while under the influence. Users staggered in, or were carried in, consumed by extreme panic, tachycardia, deep paranoia, and heart-attack symptoms. (Perhaps the most infamous incident tied to bath salts is Rudy Eugene’s horrific naked face-eating attack in Miami in May, although conclusive toxicology reports have yet to be released; still, the fact that this feels like the closest thing to a credible explanation for chewing a homeless man’s head for 18 minutes speaks volumes about the drug’s reputation.)
For the large-scale distribution of bath salts that’s currently taking place in the United States, one needs to know more than your average backyard tweaker. This is advanced-level chemistry. « What they’re doing is taking the molecules they’ve made and that they’ve read about and they’re putting different pieces together to form something totally new, » Berrier says. « And it makes it harder for us to do the analysis because it’s totally new. » In other words, synthetic drug organizations have guys like Berrier working for them, too. « I think, forensically, it’s a game of Whac-A-Mole, » says Jeffrey Scott, a former narcotics agent in the field who now works at DEA headquarters.