JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Police officers suspect the recreational drug bath salt was the cause of a cannibalistic attack by a Florida man.
Rudy Eugene was eating the face of Ronald Poppo, a 65-year-old homeless man when a Miami police officer shot and killed Eugene.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences assistant professor Dr. Shane Speights said the phrase, "bath salts", is merely a label. "A common misconception is that "bath salts" are real bath salts that you can buy over the counter at some home and beauty place that you put in your bath and that people are just using illegally. That's not true."
"These were never intended to be used a bath salts. Sometimes you'll see them as plant food, or insecticides, or sold under different guises, so to speak, and so those people that are producing these chemicals, they may call them ‘bath salts', but they know they are intended to be used as drugs, and they just try to find a way to get them onto the market legally."
Dr. Speights said the substance is a street drug made up of the chemicals mephedrone, methylone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone.
"In general, when we talk about bath salts we're talking about three specific chemicals that are being produced by garage chemists."
Data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers show 6,138 cases of exposure to bath salts occurred in 2011.
Preliminary data for January 2012 show 228 cases.
In several reported cases nationwide, people suspected of ingesting bath salts, which are marketed under names such as "Ivory Wave", "Cloud 9" or "Blue Silk", exhibited deranged behavior and extreme hallucinations and paranoia.
Dr. Speights said the drug causes extreme behavior, such as agitation, delirium and psychotic episodes more so than more common drugs.
"I've read several reports and seen reports on it being related to cocaine. I've seen a fair amount of cocaine overdoses and I haven't seen many cocaine patients act like this. This is similar, for those people that would remember, to the drug PCP that was seen a long time ago."
Dr. Speights said part of the reason for the extreme behavior after bath salt intoxication is a surge in adrenaline.
"That's where they get the superhuman strength. Normally when adrenaline is pumped into the body it only lasts for a few seconds or a few minutes. The way this drug works, it keeps the adrenaline going through the body and it can be maintained for hours, and even days."
Poppo is in critical condition at a Florida hospital.
Investigators are waiting on autopsy and toxicology results of Eugene.
"One of the thoughts behind why some of these people are having these extreme responses to it is that they may have an underlying psychiatric disorder that is actually amplifying the drug," said Dr. Speights.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states have banned bath salts.
Arkansas banned the drug in 2011.
Florida, where the mauling occurred, also banned the drug in 2011.
In September 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified the stimulants used to make bath salts as "Schedule 1" substances, or controlled substances that are illegal to possess or sell in the United States.
The control action is scheduled to expire September 2012.
Dr. Speights said bath salts many emergency rooms are not readily able to test patients for bath salt intoxication. "We normally have to send off blood samples that won't come back for a week."
"They do get a general high, which again is what they're looking for, but all of these bad effects and negative effects that go along with that is certainly not something that they want."