AUSTIN (KXAN) - If you hear the term "bath salts," chances are it has nothing to do with a soothing soaking in the tub.
More likely, it would be in reference to the street name of the newest designer drug that is so potent on drug rehabilitation center in Manor is seeing a dramatic increase in addicts.
Experts say bath salts is a synthetic drug cocktail with a high more powerful than heroine, similar to LSD or PCP.
Bath salts have nothing in common with the products long used for bathing. Instead, they are akin to cocaine or LSD, according to Austin Police Officer Richard Mabe.
Within a two-week span, Austin police said officers have responded to five cases dealing with people high on bath salts.
"They have extreme paranoia, hallucinate," Mabe said. "They sometimes hear things: demons, monsters or aliens."
Officers nationwide are reporting bizarre cases connected to bath salts, such as an instance of cannibalism in Florida. Rudy Eugene, 31, is accused of eating a homeless man's face during an attack, allegedly high off of bath salts and a mixture of other drugs.
"I couldn't stop"
Tyler Daugharty, 22, is four months sober after snorting bath salts for less than a week. After one hit, Daugharty said he was hooked.
"I couldn't eat, I couldn't drink," he said. "I was only on it for three days, and by the third day I didn't know what day it was, what time it was or anything. I was just miserable."
Daugharty said he lost touch with reality and was found holed up in a hotel room.
"I couldn't stop," he said. "It was like I started using it, and it just got really addicting. It was like every 10, 15 minutes I was using it. "
Daugharty sought help at Benchmark Recovery Center in Manor.
"What we've seen, specifically over the last six months, is about a 50 percent increase in our admissions calls regarding the abuse of bath salts," said Marsha Stone, the center's chief executive officer. "It's a relatively new phenomenon in the rehabilitation industry."
Doesn't show up on drug tests
Another recovering bath salt addict, 26-year-old Kelsey McCoy, said she used the drug intravenously after hearing about it for the first time.
"I didn't know anything about it," she said. "I didn't know how dangerous it was."
But what McCoy did know was that she could fool her family and probation officer.
"I knew bath salts wouldn't show up on a drug test, and that was also a great win-win situation," she said. "I can get messed up when I need to, and I can continue to show up for my PO."
Law enforcement agencies nationwide are facing an uphill battle in controlling the drug. In October, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued an emergency ban, making it illegal to possess or sell the combined chemicals that make up bath salts.
The DEA has declared the ban necessary, saying bath salts are an imminent threat to public safety.
Mabe, the Austin police officer, said that before the DEA acted bath salts were legally sold in convenience stores. Daugharty said he easily found the drug at one Austin smoke shop.
"I was thinking, because they sell it at a store, that it's not that bad because I've done other drugs before and it seemed like a good idea," he said.
The tell-tale signs
Because bath salts usage does not show up in drug tests, officers are left with another major challenge. In Austin, police said if officers suspect someone is on bath salts, the department's drug recognition expert is called in to perform a field sobriety test.
Tell-tale signs include a rapid heart beat, paranoia, low blood pressure.
Addiction experts like Stone said something needs to be done.
"It's frightening," Stone said. "One of the people that I spoke with that had been using bath salts was actually able to pass a drug screen because of the synthetic nature."
The road to recovery
At Benchmark Recovery Center, Daugherty and McCoy continue to recover. McCoy said she's been sober for almost a year and wants to be a veterinarian.
"I just want to say there's hope," McCoy said. "There are places you can go to, there are places you can go to recover, and there is a way. It's possible."
Daugherty said he wants to go back to school but has not yet settled on a career path. He does know, however, that he desperately wants to stay sober -- a more exhilarating feeling than the high of bath salts.
"I can't explain it," he said. "There's something about the 12-step program you get to a point where drugs aren't really on your mind anymore."
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