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‘Bath Salts’ Zombie Hysteria: Cutting Through the Hype

If you hear about bath salts on the news these days, we're not talking about aroma therapy bubbles. They're a drug that Texas made illegal last year and now they're being blamed for bizarre behavior and violent attacks across the country.


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So you switch on your TV three weeks ago, and you hear one man has gnawed off another man’s face on the side of a Miami highway. 

He was suspected to be on bath salts. 

Since then, other reports of strange behavior linked to the drug have popped up all over the country. Because some of the symptoms are so eerily similar to the behavior of zombies, on-line chatter about a zombie apocalypse got so bad that the CDC issued a statement insisting that they do not know of, in their words, “a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead or one that would present zombie-like symptoms.”  

While this may sound like the latest summer movie plot, bath salts are a real drug. 

Just this weekend, a man was found shouting and delirious in the middle of a Galveston street.  He stopped breathing before he could be taken to hospital and could not be revived.  Bath salts were found in his pocket. 

So what are bath salts exactly? They are made up of different chemicals, manufactured separately and thrown together.  Up until a year ago, you could walk into any convenience store in Texas and buy them legally as a powder, crystal, liquid, or pill.  And according to Houston State Representative Garnet Coleman, the effect is unique.

“People call this the perfect drug because … people have the same reactions as if they were on animal tranquilizers, cocaine, meth, all rolled up into one pill.”

“It isn’t benign. They call them bath salts – doesn’t come from Bed Bath and Beyond for sure.”

That’s Jon Thompson, the Director of the Texas Poison Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Thompson first came across bath salts in early 2010. After taking bath salts, a young Louisiana man tried to kill himself and was taken to the ER. 

But Thompson says that was just the beginning.

“He was treated there, seemed to be under control, They took him home, but during the night, the son went out got a rifle and shot himself and killed himself. This was one of the ones that really kind of coalesced people into realizing this was going to be a really serious problem.”

And a big part of the bath salts problem is in the symptoms. These aren’t your average stimulants.

“The really significant psychiatric symptoms … includes psychosis.”

Thompson says it isn’t unusual to see hallucinations, paranoia, and psychosis continue for days after a person is exposed. 

“We made sure that we did the bill correctly which was to ban the chemical and its derivatives of that chemical so that it made any little changes illegal as well.”

Most new drugs are man-made chemicals, and it’s a challenge for both the law and law enforcement to keep up with all of them. The Houston Police Department is conducting a number of large scale investigations to get the city’s bath salts problem under control.


Adrienne Fisher wrote this story and Pat Hernandez voiced it.