Abuse of a dangerous, highly- addictive recreational drug called "bath salts" sold on the Internet and at some gas stations and convenience stores has made its way to the Lowcountry.
Some local doctors, including Summerville Medical Center emergency department physician Tim Osbon, worry bath salt abuse is on the brink of spiking in the Palmetto State, following the trend nationally.
"It's going to be a real problem," Osbon said of the powerful new stimulant with side effects he compared to those of methamphetamine. "It's about to get out of control. We're going to see a lot of it in the next year."
Despite his warning, an official from the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services said the designer drug is "not on our radar."
"There's no reason to think it's an issue in South Carolina yet," said training coordinator Jimmy Mount.
About a dozen overdoses from bath salts have been reported at Charleston-area hospitals in the past month, emergency department doctors said. Patients -- some of whom ended up in intensive care -- have come to emergency rooms with hallucinations, rapid heart rates, severe panic attacks, seizures and psychosis, doctors said. Some patients are unresponsive, while others are combative; some alternate between the two states, doctors said. The drug, which usually is snorted or injected, can lead to cardiac arrest, they said.
Bath salts, which have caused at least one reported death nationally since November and go undetected in normal drug screens, still are legal in South Carolina and most other states.
Other street names for the drug, whose chemical compound is MDPV, include "white rush," "cloud nine" and "vanilla sky." The drug -- which costs about $20 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- is not used for bathing and is unrelated to the actual bath product.
The Trident Health Systems hospitals have treated six bath-salt overdoses in just more than a month at its Moncks Corner, Summerville and Trident medical centers, a spokesman said.
Dr. Osbon said he recently treated a teenager who was unresponsive when he entered the emergency room at Summerville Medical Center following a bath-salt overdose. The teen was found in his car, slumped over and foaming at the mouth, Osbon said. The patient stayed in intensive care and was hospitalized for six days, he said.
The Medical University of South Carolina emergency department treated an overdose case in the emergency room last week, a spokeswoman said. East Cooper Medical Center has not treated any overdoses attributed to bath salts, a spokeswoman for that hospital said.
Roper Hospital has treated several bath-salt overdoses in recent weeks, said Roper emergency department doctor John Walters.
One recent case involved a patient who suffered severe trauma because he cut himself while high, Walters said. Another patient had dangerously high blood pressure and had suffered muscle breakdown and organ failure, he said, noting that overdoses could easily turn fatal.
"One episode can get you," he said.
The Legislature introduced a bill in March that would classify bath salts as a schedule I drug, a class that includes heroin and LSD. Although the House bill has more than 60 sponsors, it did not become law this session, which ends Thursday.
The drug has been around for at least a year, but has received national attention since the beginning of this year, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study abuse trends in Michigan. It released a report on the study last week that showed the demographics of the 35 patients treated for bath-salt abuse in that state since November.
Reach Renee Dudley at 937-5550.