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Bath salts dangers underscored

L.A. County health officials warn against using the drug, which has been linked to a number of bizarre incidents and arrests nationwide.

October 17, 2012|By Wesley Lowery, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County health officials warned Tuesday against the use of bath salts — the designer drug involved in a series of bizarre incidents and arrests — just one week after a new study charted a skyrocketing number of calls to U.S. poison control centers about the drug.

The relatively new drug has been known to provoke hallucinations, paranoia and uncontrollable violent outbursts, officials said.

"Bath salts are very dangerous and, in many cases, we don't really know what's going into this drug," L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said in an interview after issuing the warning.

In July, President Obama signed a federal ban on the drug's three active ingredients and halted smoke shops and gas stations from selling bath salts. The drug remains available, however, online and through the black market.

U.S. poison control centers have seen a drastic increase in calls related to bath salts during the last three years — zooming upward from zero in 2009 to 6,138 calls last year, according an analysis of American Assn. of Poison Control statistics presented at the American Osteopathic Assn. conference last week.

Bath salts — also known on the street as white lightning, white rush and Hurricane Charlie — have been linked to a series of bizarre violent crimes across the country.

In June, a 20-year-old Glendale man was charged with burglary and assault with a deadly weapon after allegedly striking a woman in the head with a shovel in what police believe was a bath-salt-induced rage. Authorities are also investigating whether bath salts were involved in the slaying of an 81-year-old Los Feliz woman, allegedly at the hands of former "Sons of Anarchy" actor Johnny Lewis.

In a taped conversation with a Glendale police officer, Deutsche Bank executive Brian C. Mulligan admitted to using bath salts as many as 20 times and expressed concern that he was being followed by a helicopter.

Mulligan is currently suing the Los Angeles Police Department for $50 million after a later altercation with police in which he was allegedly beaten. He claims LAPD officers restrained and brutally beat him, while the police union says his memories were skewed by the drug.

Bath salt usage has "certainly increased from nothing to now, where it seems to be a national problem, and L.A. is no exception," LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.

wesley.lowery@latimes.com

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