BALTIMORE - Forget weed, ecstasy and huffing, these days kids are turning to something else to get high and they could be doing it right under your nose. ABC2 News Investigator Joce Sterman has more on the drugs they're using and how their names might throw you off because they sound just like something you'll find around the house.
You dump them into your bath at the end of a long day to relax. But while bath salts may sounds like part of a soothing soak to you, has a totally different meaning to your kids. Dr. Fermin Barrueto with Upper Chesapeake Health Systems says, "You could see something and it could look completely innocent and not realize this is the drug."
To your kids bath salts have nothing to do with what you see in the drug-store. They're the latest trend in man-made drugs and they can be deadly. Carl Kotowski with the Drug Enforcement Administration says, "I would not even think about putting this in your body."
But plenty of people do, using this white powder or crystals to get high. It's sold cheaply in head shops, gas stations and on the internet. Teens may call it bath salts or plant food, but it's actually synthetic meth or cocaine and right now in Maryland, it's totally legal. Kotowski explains, "A lot of folks equate legal as being safe and that's the problem right there."
And the problem is growing. According to the Maryland Poison Center run by the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, there were only two calls about bath salts in 2010. But so far in 2011, there have already been 15 calls and one death related to the drug. Nationwide the numbers are more staggering with 302 total calls in 2010 and nearly 1,800 so far this year.
Barrueto says the numbers are alarming. That's why he says moms and dads need to get informed. He tells ABC2, "The emergency department is going to be the front line when it all goes wrong. The parents are going to be the front line in prevention."
Barrueto is trying to spread the word. At Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, he opened parents' eyes to drugs that probably aren't on their radar. Robin Stokes-Smith was one of them. She says, "I'm here to learn and understand and recognize what's going on in the community."
For moms like Stokes-Smith, it's hard to recognize what kids her son's age are using, so she has to stay on top of it. Her 15-year-old is drug free, but that doesn't mean he's not exposed to the dangers. Ahmad Smith says, "A few weeks ago a girl on my bus had a bag of spice with her, she was thinking about smoking it."
And while bath salts are code for synthetic cocaine, Spice is what they call a new form of weed. Kotowski explains, "It's marketed or labeled as herbal incense, but that's just to mask its intended purpose."
The product smells like incense, but it's not being used that way. It's really synthetic pot. Sold for $20 a pack as botanical potpourri, the DEA says this stuff is really sprayed with dangerous man-made chemicals. Kotowski warns, "You don't know how the product is produced. You don't know the chemicals that are in it, so you're basically playing Russian roulette with your body."
Teens and young adults are rolling the dice in big numbers. The American Association of Poison Control Centers tallied more than 4,500 spice related calls during the last two years.
The numbers are starting to drop, but here at home, Dr. Barrueto says his docs have seen a spike, with several dozen cases in their ERs in the last few months. He says, "We're still definitely seeing this through 2011, despite the DEA's effort of essentially making it illegal to sell."
But while the DEA made it illegal to sell certain ingredients in synthetic pot, it didn't ban the drug itself. As a result your kids can still find it. We did. We took our hidden camera into local shops and had no trouble buying several different brands with a new label. Some stores even make a point of putting out signs to let you know their stuff is legal.
Even if the products they're peddling are legal, your kids won't have to look hard to find what's not. Thanks to the internet, banned drugs are easy to buy, even if it means breaking the law and putting your body at risk. Howard County Health Officer Dr. Peter Beilenson says, "The bottom line is we don't know what's in this stuff. It's clearly not good for you and you should stay away from it."