July 23, 2015

Heavy Use of ‘Bath Salts’ Reported Among Some Teens, Study Says

A new study released this week by New York University found that 1.1 percent of teens have tried ‘bath salts,’ but nearly one-fifth of adolescents are using ‘bath salts’ on a regular basis, Medical News Today reported.

‘Bath salt’ usage has been associated with numerous adverse cardiac, psychiatric, neurological, gastrointestinal and pulmonary outcomes. In 2011, the use of ‘bath salts’ was responsible for over 20,000 emergency room visits in the United States and poisonings and deaths related to use have been occurring at large dance festivals. Increases in bizarre behavior linked to use of the ‘bath salt’ known as Flakka (alpha-PVP) has increasingly been appearing in headlines. ‘Bath salt’ use appears to be prevalent, yet, despite this, little is known about the epidemiology of this drug in the United States.

The study, published in The American Journal of Addiction by Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a CDUHR affiliated researcher and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), is among the first nationally representative studies in the country to examine self-reported use of bath salts.

The study, “‘Bath Salt'” Use Among a Nationally Representative Sample of High School Seniors in the United States,” used data from Monitoring the Future responses from 2012 to 2013. Researchers examined data from more than 8,000 students who reported their sociodemographic data, alcohol and drug use. 

Results suggest that 1.1 percent of high school seniors reported using bath salts in the last 12 months. A third (33 percent) of students who used bath salts reported using only once or twice, which suggests experimentation is most common among users; however, frequent use was also common among users with an alarming 18 percent of users reporting using 40 or more times in the last year.

The study also found that students who resided with fewer than two parents, who earned more than $50 per week from sources other than a job, or who go out 4 to 7 nights per week for fun, were at significantly increased risk for use.

Lifetime use of each of the 11 illicit drugs assessed by the Monitoring the Future survey was a risk factor for use. More than 90 percent of ‘bath salts’ users reported lifetime use of alcohol or marijuana, and use of powder cocaine, LSD, crack and heroin was at least ten times more prevalent among bath salt users.

While rates of use in the U.S. prior to 2012 are unknown, numerous media reports about the dangers associated with use might have served as a deterrent against use. Palamar also pointed out that ‘bath salts’ can wind up as adulterants in drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA, ‘Molly’) so it is possible that many club and festival attendees who use ‘Molly’ may be unintentionally using these potentially dangerous drugs.

“While these results suggest ‘bath salt’ use is not particularly prevalent among teens in the U.S., it is important that we continue to monitor new drugs such as ‘bath salts’ in order to inform prevention and quickly detect potential drug epidemics,” Dr. Palamar said in a news release.


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