Synthetic coke sold as bath salts
HUNTINGTON — On the heels of one designer drug comes another that experts are calling more dangerous with side effects that can take days to wear off.
Synthetic cocaine, being marketed and sold legally as bath salts under such names as "Ivory Wave" or "Vanilla Sky," is stealing the headlines from synthetic marijuana for its toxic properties and cocaine-like high.
It has been attributed to a handful of deaths in the United States, as well as overseas, and has made its way into the Tri-State -- at least one local smoke shop is selling the powdery substance, titled "Synergy," for $50 per half-gram.
"Synergy" is being sold in a small baggy labeled "Ultra Premium Bath Salts, 100 percent pure," but also boasts the warning, "Not For Human Consumption." The chemical makeup is a two-headed monster -- Lidocaine, a prescription drug used for cardiac patients or in anesthesia, and MDPV, a psychoactive drug with central nervous system-stimulating properties that some have called four times as potent as Ritalin. MDPV has no FDA-approved medical use and is not detectable in drug screenings. One cardiologist exposed to a patient who had ingested the drug said it can take two to three days for the agitation and psychosis to wear off.
"This is much more dangerous (than synthetic marijuana) because of the combination of drugs we're seeing. We know what these drugs definitely do and, used the wrong way, they can lead to death," said Mike O'Neil, a professor at the University of Charleston's School of Pharmacy.
Side effects of ingesting the synthetic cocaine can include rapid heartbeat, increase in blood pressure, anxiety, extreme agitation, hallucinations and death.
"This is another drug that's part of our party culture. It's not the addict culture. Heroin addicts, OxyContin addicts, they aren't the ones doing this," O'Neil said. "If people want to understand the dynamics of this, the utilization and philosophy of it are more similar to ecstasy, but the chemical combination is almost like the high-end side of cocaine."
Local lawmakers voiced their concern Wednesday over the latest addition to the synthetic drug craze.
"This is very scary and very deadly, and as lawmakers, we have to work hard and try to get ahead of the game," said Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell. "This will very much be a part of the substances we're trying to outlaw and join other states that have already done so.
"I just pray I don't wake up one day and see a story on the front page of the newspaper of a young person who loses their life over this."
Jenkins expressed skepticism over smoke shops that sell this type of product.
"You have to question how often, historically, this type of establishment sells 'bath salts,' " he said. "It just doesn't jibe with the store's motif."
Huntington City Council's Public Safety Committee meeting meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, at City Hall to discuss an ordinance banning synthetic marijuana. Upon learning of synthetic cocaine being sold locally, committee chairwoman Frances Jackson said she anticipates the discussion will include synthetic cocaine as well. Councilman Steve Williams also urged Cabell County Commission members to attend the meeting as well.
Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said the appearance of synthetic cocaine and synthetic marijuana shows that legislation, whether it be at the local, state or federal level, must address synthetic drugs in a broad context to prohibit manufacturers from finding more loopholes.
"Clearly, the backyard chemists are ahead of lawmakers in this," he said. "We also need to look at the retail side. We just can't let retailers off the hook because these dangerous substances they are selling say 'not for human consumption' on the packaging."
Reporter Bryan Chambers contributed to this story.