Nightly News   |  October 22, 2011

Bath salts have dirty, dangerous secret

A drug named bath salts is a powerful methamphetamine derivative that's relatively new to the market, and can cause hallucinations and psychotic breaks. NBC's Mara Schiavocampo reports.

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LESTER HOLT, anchor: The federal government raised new alarm this week about so-called bath salts . Not the kind you use when soaking in a tub, but powerful and dangerous synthetic drugs that can lead to death. Yesterday the Drug Enforcement Agency banned the drugs. NBC 's Mara Schiavocampo has more tonight.

MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO reporting: A late night visit from Granite City , Illinois , police brought a nightmare home for Nancy Hodge and her daughter Amanda .

AMANDA: They asked me if I could come down to Gateway Regional Hospital to see if it was my brother, to identify him.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Twenty-six -year-old Jeffrey was in a coma, hospitalized after being found combative and psychotic on a neighborhood street. He would die three days later, devastating his family. The cause bath salts , a methamphetamine derivative that was widely available to anyone, including children. But don't let the name fool you. These aren't actually bath salts , but a powerful designer drug that can cause hallucinations, psychotic breaks and suicide.

Mr. GARY BOGGS (Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent): Young adults are not really fully aware of the dangers when they take these drugs and what the potential side effects, both short-term and long-term, are.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: And the effect of the drug on users may not end with one night's high.

Dr. MARK RYAN (Louisiana Poison Center): Some of them were sent to psychiatric facilities and some of them were sent to long-term care because their symptoms either had not resolved or weren't resolving. So we don't know if some of the effects from some of these substances may be permanent.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: In 2010 , there were 303 calls to poison control centers nationwide about bath salts . In just the first half of this year, there were more than 12 times that number of calls.

Dr. RYAN: These drugs, because they are so new and they've never been tested, and large numbers of people haven't taken them, it's truly a Russian roulette .

SCHIAVOCAMPO: So this week the DEA took emergency action, making the sale and possession of bath salts illegal to prevent an imminent threat to the public safety.

AMANDA: I love that picture of him.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: That's little comfort for a grieving family who lost a young brother, son and father of two far too soon.

Ms. NANCY HODGE: The kids just don't understand about it. You know, it's bad.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Mara Schiavocampo, NBC News, New York.