‘Zombie epidemic’ blamed on terrifying new drug

A series of bizarre attacks, arrests and deaths has been blamed on a substance called ‘bath salts’ – a dangerous new drug. In the USA, it is gaining popularity. Can the epidemic be stopped?

Rudy Eugene, a 28-year-old from Miami, was found by police one sunny afternoon fighting with a homeless man on a city street. He was naked, and crouching over his victim like a predator. As officers edged closer, they saw something truly horrifying: he was eating the other man’s face.

When they shouted at him to stop, the cannibal growled menacingly. One officer shot him in the shoulder, but even then he continued his gruesome attack. Only a bullet in the head put an end to Eugene’s grim feast.

The story sounds like the beginning of a zombie film. But officials believe this shocking behaviour may in fact have been caused by a little-known drug called ‘bath salts’ – a ‘legal high’ that is causing a panic across the USA.

Eugene’s is not the only disturbing case to be linked with the drug. Last week, a pregnant woman ran naked through the streets and tried to strangle her own child: she died after being tasered by police. Another user threatened to eat a policeman. One man was discovered dressed in women’s underwear, slitting the throat of his neighbour’s goat.

One doctor, who has worked against substance abuse for twenty years, says the drug is the worst he has ever seen. ‘With LSD, you might see pink elephants,’ he said. ‘But with this drug, you see demons, aliens, extreme paranoia, heart attacks, and superhuman strength.’

Shockingly, however, people who sell bath salts may not be breaking the law. It is one of many synthetic drugs, created in labs to mimic the effect of illegal substances. These drugs may be nearly identical to MDMA or cocaine, but they are chemically different – so the law doesn’t apply to them.

When these intoxicating new compounds become popular, they are sometimes made illegal. But underground laboratories can create new substances with just a tiny chemical tweak. The result? A growing list of strange ‘legal’ drugs with unknown – and potentially deadly – side effects.

A bitter pill?

How to deal with these frightening new substances? Some think zero-tolerance is the answer. The people making and selling these new drugs need to be sent to prison – even if they have found some clever loophole that means they are technically within the law. Only aggressive police action can keep ‘legal highs’ off the streets.

Others think resources should be diverted away from prohibition and towards education. New drugs are appearing all the time – the argument goes – and banning all of them would be impossible. But if people knew more about the dangers, they would be less likely to take risks with drugs in the first place.

You Decide

  1. Will banning bath salts solve the problems they are causing?
  2. Why would someone turn to risky legal highs?


  1. A friend has purchased a gram of the legal high ‘Ivory Wave’, and suggests you try it. Act out the conversation between you.
  2. Which do you think is the world’s most dangerous drug? Write down three reasons for your choice that you think will convince your classmates.

Some People Say...

“All drugs should be legal.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How many people arereally taking this drug?
It’s not just isolated cases. In 2010, 304 calls were made to Americanpoison control centres about bath salts. By May 1st this year, over one thousand had been recorded. Some experts are comparing the rise to the way crystal meth spread in the 1980s.
Has it hit the UK yet?
It seems so. Last week, one girl made headlines when she went on a naked rampage in a Tesco after taking the drug. One of its side effects is a high body temperature, that can prompt users to shed their clothes.
Will it always be called ‘bath salts’?
No – it’s been sold under other names, including Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky, Panic, and Rushmore. Most packets come with a ‘not for human consumption’ warning, to try and fool authorities.

Word Watch

A taser is a weapon that delivers a sharp, painful electric shock, incapacitating a victim for a short period of time. It is often used by police forces to subdue suspects that are running away, or uncooperative. Although the force is not meant to be deadly, or harmful in the long term, the practice has been heavily criticised following the deaths of several taser victims.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide is a psychedelic drug that causes hallucinations. The effects can last for several hours and vary from seeing colours and ripples in surfaces to seeing people or objects that are not there at all. Users might become unable to distinguish between themselves and their surroundings, creating ‘spiritual’ experiences of wholeness; long-term use has been shown to result in paranoia and psychosis.
Synthetic Drugs
Many types of drugs are produced from chemicals in labs – and the most well known varieties, like MDMA or LSD, are illegal. As time goes on, however, chemists develop new drug-like chemical compounds, which aren’t covered by the law. When these become popular, however, they are often made illegal.
Poison control centres
Poison control centres provide people with free advice and help on hazardous substances. People might contact the centres if they are exposed to insect bites and stings, household substances or illegal drugs: users would only contact them if things went badly wrong with a drug, so statistics probably represent a small proportion of bath salts usage.


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