Bath Salts Hype

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In what can only be described as a media frenzy, recent reports about “bath salts” have filled the airwaves with dramatic stories about users violently attacking others, “superhuman strength,” and psychotic deliriums. But how much is hype and how much is good information?

Drama and Tragedy

A man in Florida walks naked beside a freeway and attacks a homeless man he runs across. Police arrive to find him biting the face of the victim and shoot him to stop the attack. The headlines refer to a “Zombie Face Eater” and bath salts are mentioned, although no drug paraphernalia or drugs are found at the scene, and toxicology reports hadn’t been done.

Another man cuts up his victim and mails body parts. Again, bath salts are mentioned.

Original reports on CNN linked four different incidents and were liberally sprinkled with “may have,” “suspected,” and other modifiers. A more recent report backs off a bit and only mentions two possible incidents. This report is actually much more informative on bath salts in general.

The Danger of Fear Mongering

First, it’s plain that none of these designer drugs that have made their way into bath salts are safe. Some are addictive and many can cause psychotic reactions, especially at higher doses. But there’s a problem – no one really knows the details of either what’s in the products (and this can change because there is no regulation on manufacturers), or exactly how these chemicals affect people.

The danger of hyping any drug, illegal or not, past its true harm is the bounce-back. At various times, marijuana, crack, methamphetamine and even alcohol have received the broad brush treatment. “Reefer Madness” came out in the 1930’s as the benchmark, but we’ve all heard stories about instant addiction from meth or crack. LSD got the treatment; so did PCP.

The problem comes when young people experiment with the drug they’ve been told will turn them into a face-eating zombie, or instantly addict them, or make them permanently brain damaged. When the worst case scenario doesn’t play out, they may assume that everything else they’ve been told is a lie. And even when they are afraid to try it themselves, they will believe a peer who has tried it over a scary news report.

The Right Way

The right way to handle these things is to tell the truth. Alcohol abuse does account for a higher incidence of domestic violence and deaths from DUI. Marijuana can occasionally trigger a paranoid reaction in a subset of users. Crack and meth do cause long-term harm and are highly addictive.

There’s no need to make these already nasty drugs seem outrageously so. And it doesn’t work when they know a friend who has tried the substance in question and seems fine. Extracting a few cases in a user population that may be several hundred thousand isn’t the way to get the facts out there and develop trust. The truth is powerful enough.

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