Rudy Eugene, 31, the so-called "cannibal" Miami man who was fatally shot as he chewed on another man's face in a gruesome attack over the weekend, is suspected to have been high on a drug known as "bath salts."
Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police announced his theory, adding that the drug “causes them to go completely insane and become very violent."
The dangerous drug, which is banned in many states, but so far has no specific federal ban (though there is a ban on the three main chemicals used to make the drug), is available on the street and also at many tobacco and drug paraphernalia shops under names like White China, Lady Bubbles, Dynamite, Vanilla Sky, Ivory Wave and Cloud 9.
Bath salts, the drug's benign name, belies its actual makeup -- a toxic cocktail of the stimulants Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and pyrovalerone. The Drug Enforcement Agency groups bath salts with mescaline and ephedrine, while dealers market the drug as a replacement for cocaine or a synthetic form of the hallucinogen LSD, according to CNN.
The drug can cause severe agitation, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, paranoia and symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions. The drug can also lead to overheating of the body, which is why so many users remove their clothing.
Users of the drug experience hallucinations, lose touch with reality and can exhibit psychotic behavior. To call Eugene's behavior erratic is an understatement: a biker discovered him on a highway ramp, totally naked and reportedly attacking Ronald Poppo, a 65-year-old homeless man from the area. When police arrived at the scene, Eugene allegedly refused to stop his attack and even growled at the officers. It is possible that bath salts could cause a person to behave in this manner.
HuffPost's mental health editor Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer, the medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health, explained in a recent article how the drug gets into the hands of abusers:
While stimulants are controlled drugs, the labs often produce variations of existing drugs to avoid regulation.
Bags of "bath salt" sometimes have written on them "Not Intended for Human Consumption." New York State's Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, banned their distribution. Several states have proposed legislation, as has happened federally, to prohibit these substances, but the law is a slow tool in a rapidly moving market.
Sederer added that the drugs are also often mislabeled to avoid detection. Despite efforts to control the sale of bath salts, use is skyrocketing. In 2009, there were only two recorded cases, but by 2010, that number had jumped to 338. In 2011, the last year for which we have data, there were 911 reported instances of bath salt abuse.
According to a CDC report of bath salt abusers in Michigan, users not only experience psychological side effects -- there were physical ones too. In fact, 91 percent of users had neurological damage, while 77 percent experienced cardiovascular damage and 49 percent had psychological difficulties associated with the drug. Those difficulties could be severe: 37 percent of the people who suffered mental health problems reported attempting suicide or having suicidal thoughts, related to bath salts.
According to the CDC report, bath salts usually aren't the only drug a person will use -- most bath salts users also abuse other substances, like methamphetamines, cocaine and opiates, such as heroin.
“Addictive substances, whether they are bath salts, alcohol or other drugs, can have horrific and costly consequences. Sometimes these consequences can result from only one use; other times they are a result of the complex brain disease of addiction," Susan E. Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University told CNN. "Together, risky use of addictive substances and addiction constitute our nation’s largest and most costly health problem."
According to Sederer, the solution may be a word of mouth campaign: "Speak to your friends. Talk to your children. Doctors, mental health and addiction counselors warn your patients," he advises. "Let them know: The bath you take with 'bath salts' is dangerous and at the deep end of the toxic pool."