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‘Bath salts’ ER visits near 23,000 in 2011

Cathleen Allison/Associated Pres

Illegal drugs called "bath salts" — which have nothing to do with the products added to bath water — were responsible for nearly 23,000 emergency room visits in 2011, according to a new report issued by the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"Bath salts" contain one or more chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant. These highly addictive drugs can be taken by mouth, inhaled or injected, and are associated with dangerous side effects such as heart and blood vessel problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and, in rare cases, death.

While bath salts make up only a small fraction of the 2.5 million emergency room visits that occur annually for drug abuse, they've come onto the government's radar in the past few years. Bath salts are particularly dangerous when mixed with other drugs such as synthetic marijuana or cocaine.

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The white or brown powder is sold in packages made to look like they contain common household products, such as plant food or jewelry cleaner. They are usually labeled as a "legal high" or "not for human consumption," according to the SAMHSA, in an attempt by dealers to skirt prosecution from federal authorities. The drugs, which until August 2012 were legal in Massachusetts, are often sold in convenience stores or on the Internet.


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