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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

‘Bath salt’ abuse and other stupid health risks teens take

Teens are always doing risky things -- their brains are wired for it. Now they’re ingesting a drug known as “bath salts” and “plant food”, sold in convenience stores, or they’re accidentally swallowing magnets that they pretend are tongue piercings. Yes, these are just two of the stupid health risks teens take that have been making headlines lately. Here are a few more details.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from the American College of Emergency Physicians saying its members had seen an “alarming increase” in the amount of teens and young adults being treated in emergency departments after having a bad reaction to a synthetic drug, an amphetamine-like substance found in products labeled bath salts, plant food, or air freshener. These products have large warnings on their labels stating “do not ingest” -- a clear tip-off since legitimate products of this sort don’t need to have such large warnings because most people wouldn’t think to ingest them.

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In 2010, there were about 300 calls to poison control centers related specifically to bath salts, according to the emergency physician group. During the first eight months of 2011, the number of calls was greater than 4,700. Most were from teens and young adults who developed such symptoms as chest pain, elevated blood pressure, nausea, erratic heartbeat, agitation, extreme paranoia, and violent or suicidal tendencies.

The effects can last for days or weeks, said Dr. Eric Lavonas, a Denver emergency room physician who treated six rave party-goers this past New Year’s who were hospitalized after they ingested a mixture of bath salts and spice, a synthetic form of marijuana.

“We don’t know how many people are getting sick from these drugs and never getting to hospitals,” he said.

The other teen health risk parents need to be aware of is a popular toy containing magnets the size of BB pellets that teens are using to mimic tongue or lip piercings. The Washington Post reported on a pre-teen who put one magnet on the top of her tongue and one on the underside to look like a piercing. She accidentally swallowed them both and needed surgery.

While Boston-area emergency rooms haven’t seen recent cases involving teens and magnets, Dr. Alex Flores, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Tufts Medical Center told me it’s a major concern when two or more magnets are swallowed. “They can separate and attract each other as they move through the bowel, causing a perforation of the bowel,” he said. “I try to retrieve them endoscopically before this can occur.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in November that these magnets can be risky for kids and teens, linking them to 22 incidents since 2009. The commission told parents who purchased these products to keep them away from kids of all ages or, better yet, get a refund.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.

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