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David Griffith

David Griffith

David Griffith has been editor of POLICE Magazine since December 2001. He brings more than 25 years of experience on magazines and newspapers to POLICE. A Maggie award-winning journalist, his byline has appeared on hundreds of articles in POLICE and other national magazines.



Melanie Basich

Melanie Basich

Managing Editor Melanie Basich joined POLICE Magazine in 2000 (when her last name was still Hamilton). An award-winning journalist, she has covered such topics as agency budgets, officer suicide, emerging law enforcement technologies, and active shooter tactics. She writes and manages the product section of POLICE.
Editor's Notes

Video: The Hazards of 'Bath Salts'

The pain-compliance tools on your duty belt may not be effective.

June 05, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

VIDEO: 'Bath Salts' User Describes Overdose

Following the Miami cannibal attack, medical experts again warned officers about a synthetic street drug known as bath salts, which causes users to become impervious to pain compliance techniques.

Officers who confront a subject under the influence of bath salts must approach with caution. However, several doctors interviewed by POLICE Magazine offered suggestions for dealing with this emerging threat.

While toxicology reports must still be completed, a Miami Police official believes Rudy Eugene was under the influence of bath salts when he attacked Ronald Poppo on May 26. A stripped-naked Eugene growled at the responding officer, and wasn't fazed by the first bullet that struck him. The officer fired five rounds, killing Eugene.

A subject under the influence of bath salts poses a similar problem as PCP (a.k.a. angel dust) did in its 1980s heyday—a problem not easily solved with the tools officers have on hand. Less-lethal tools such as pepper spray or a baton are nearly useless, doctors said.

"Talking rarely calms the situation and the use of blunt force may not slow them down," said Sydney Vail, a trauma doctor and director of Arizona DPS SWAT tactical medicine. "O.C. spray may likely be ineffective as well."

Home or street chemists create bath salts usually using at least one of three chemicals now banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration—MDPV, mephedrone, and methylone.

The potent mixture, which is sold on the Internet and in head shops, has the hallucinatory effect of LSD and stimulates users like amphetamine, said Dr. Jeffrey Ho, an ER physician and Meeker County (Minn.) Sheriff's Office reserve deputy.

"It makes people unable to understand what's going on around them," Ho told POLICE Magazine. "It makes them paranoid. And it makes them impervious to painful stimuli."

While many of the tools on an officer's duty belt won't modify the behavior of a bath salts user, an effective TASER shot should handle the situation, said Ho. TASER probes spread at least 14 inches apart should disable the subject's muscles even if the person continues to hallucinate.

In addition to providing back-up units, law enforcement agencies should advise dispatchers to send paramedics to the scene after a report of a subject exhibiting behaviors such as tearing off clothing, growling, acting non-communicative, or appearing to have super-human strength.

"You want to make this person a medical professional's problem," said Ho. "You don't want to make that person a law enforcement problem. You need to get them under control as soon as possible and get them to a hospital."

Ho suggests controlling a subject's limbs rather than putting pressure on a person's upper body, which can block circulation and breathing.

Paramedics may be your best allies for ending this threat. EMTs are often trained to administer an injection of ketamine, a potent tranquilizer often used on horses and other animals.

Related:

'Bath Salts' User Describes Overdose (video)

Miami Cop Who Stopped Cannibal Attack 'Doing All Right'

Feds Temporarily Ban Chemicals Used in 'Bath Salts'

Tags: TASER, Gaining Compliance, Bath Salts, Handcuffing Suspects, EMTs


Comments (21)

Displaying 1 - 21 of 21

Morning Eagle @ 6/5/2012 6:46 PM

The sad part of this whole thing is so many people have turned to stimulants or depressants and the more potent, addictive and mind altering the better they like them. They live in one the most tolerant and generous countries in the world yet they seem unable to handle their lives without artificial stimuli. Maybe part of the problem is that we have been too tolerant and generous. Wish I knew the answer.

Jason Barnes @ 6/5/2012 7:02 PM

How about tranquilizer darts? Seems like that'd be safer than having to go hand-to-hand, then have an EMT manually do an injection.

Dr. Leonard J. Mather, Ph @ 6/5/2012 8:50 PM

As a Forensic Psychologist and having attended TREXPO East over the years, it appears to me that Ho's advice is of little assistance to LEOs when he said that the Bath Salt users are to be viewed as a medical and hospital case. That statement puts a stop to actions by LEOs. Ho also advises to concentrate on controlling the limbs of the victim instead of the upper body where it would adversely affect his circulation and breathing. How many LEO's are needed for controlling his limbs? My advice would be to act on the upper body immediately so as to impede his circulation and breathing. Use the Taser with several shots, THEN call EMT to get the Perp hospitalized after proper injections. Then and only then does the Perp become a medical/hospital case. Immobilize him with cuffs, chains, and plastic cuffs in case the injections do not work and the Tasers dissipate. Ho means well, but does not offer pragmatic solutions for the LEO.

R. G. Montgomery @ 6/5/2012 9:18 PM

I remember attending a PCP seminar during the late '70s/early '80s. The ideal is to 'contain' the suspect without stopping his/her breathing.

One technique involved three officers; one with a basic fire extinguisher to distract the suspect and two to wrap the suspect with a net arrangement. This technique required prior choreographing and practice.

My personal thought was something along the order of an Argentine gaucho's 'bolo'; the three pronged throwing device that wraps around the object it strikes. Or possibly a 'lasso'.

Both of which would be objected to by the ACLU, no doubt.

Guys, I'm retired now; you all be careful.

Sapdmas @ 6/6/2012 1:38 AM

All nice thoughts in the ideal world but when you are a lone cop in a chaotic and life threatening incident, all of these suggestions go out the window. Teasers are not accurate weapons and fail. Even bullets fail against these drugged up psychos. Bottom line is the officer's safety comes first period.

Ken Kraus @ 6/6/2012 4:39 AM

BATH SALTS vs SHOTGUNS. (any takers)??

Bob @ 6/6/2012 4:54 AM

In a case like the Miami zombie, none of Ho's suggestions strike me as useful. The victim's flesh is being consumed and they are closing in on death by the second. In order to save the victim's life, quick and decisive action is required by the first officer on the scene. The officer in the Miami case did exactly what was required. The user made a conscious decision to use a drug and bears the full responsibility for that decision whatever comes to pass after they ingest the chemicals. It's unfortunate that others, including the responding officers, must also bear the consequences of an offender's use of these drugs.

Larry @ 6/6/2012 6:07 AM

The bottom line!!!!!! These people made the decision to take the drugs. I have a one person patrol unit to cover 36 square miles, my officers are going home safe. Its time to stop codling people and giving them excuses for there actions. People need to start being held accountable.

mike Gee @ 6/6/2012 8:37 AM

In response to several comments here, the issue is that L.E. apply sufficient minimum force that neutralizes the potential violent effects of the individual under the influence of this "designer" drug, while at the same time preventing injury to that individual, or others.

Any type of "upper body restraint" which restricts breathing is considered at the higher threshhold of the use of force continuum, and in many agencies is considered at or within "deadly force"- temporary restraint of limbs, or use of "less lethal" devices( as in Tasers) is preferable- but this must be based on the situation at hand.

If an individual is under the influence, but poses no threat, treat them either as you would any other intoxicated arrestees or have them transported for medical treatment.I have dealt with dozens of people under the influence of PCP, as well as those on binges of stimulants like cocaine and Meth- officers and medical personnel need not PANIC and think " fights on" just because....

Editor @ 6/6/2012 8:40 AM

Bob: To be fair to Dr. Ho, Paul did not ask him what to do in case someone on bath salts is biting off someone else's face. I'm sure in that case he would agree that deadly force is necessary. Paul asked him how officers should handle people who are experiencing a psychotic break because of bath salts but are not presenting a deadly threat to officers or others.

Scott @ 6/6/2012 11:11 AM

This question of for any of the Dr's that surf the forum. Someone mentioned the use of Ketamine on these pts who are suffering from the Bath Salts effects. My question, would Valium or Versed have any effect on these individuals?? So far we have been lucky with our bath salts pts. they havent been combative they have been on the other end of the spectrum, overly friendly and such.

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 6/6/2012 3:30 PM

Bath salts, PCP, meth, whatever. If they are acting dangerous, violent, aggressive and have just torn some guy's head from his shoulders you should not really care what's they have snorted, injested, fixed, etc. Use the force capable of ending their felonious activity and keep you and the public safe.. 12 gauge, 9 mm, .38, .40, .357, karate if you like hand to hand.

Halderon @ 6/6/2012 4:28 PM

Mike-I have dealt with people on PCP also. How did you quiet them down-they did not feel pain, you could not talk to them, O.C. ran off them like water. At one stop, a Highway worker tried to help, hit the guy over the head with a spade,and he didn't even blink. If you can't communicate with them, and they don't feel pain, what is your secret. Ar one stop, an I.S.P. shot one, only to find him crawling after him. I would be interested in how you did it.

J. Ettari @ 6/6/2012 7:56 PM

When dealing with a combative PCP user, one of the few options is interrupting breathing, striking the diaphragm. Without the oxygen the limbs stop moving until diaphragm relaxes from spasm. The other option is a net so that they fight themselves. IMO and experience.

Frank @ 6/7/2012 3:52 AM

@Larry - You hit the nail on the head Larry!

Thomas J. Nelson @ 6/19/2012 5:21 PM

I tried to be polite and PC can't do it I do think we need to stop calling them the users victims and stop calling bath salts designer drugs if they break the law lock them up let them detox in jail use as much force as the offender or the situation calls there I think I did okay

Bob@Az. @ 6/27/2012 7:58 PM

mike gee: I wonder if you have "dealt" with dozens of PCP users as stated. May I take a guess that you were not alone in some stinking alley with a "wired" perp who thinks he's indestructable? Oh, and by the way, he is armed and your in his way. Not fun. Officer safety is #1.

Matthew Biggie @ 6/28/2012 2:16 AM

Bath salts are becoming a real problem even for officers like me who work in very small towns. We are seeing more and more of this drug. I have no other officers on my department and backup is often not available or would take an extended period of time to reach me. In a situation where the subject is using bath salts and is aggressive I don't see many alternatives to deadly force. God love the taser but if it doesn't work I'M STILL GOING HOME...

JaredPatrick466 @ 7/3/2012 5:34 PM

I work for the department that delt and still deals with Freddy Sharp. The male from this video. He continues to use what ever he can. As of this past weekend we had to transport him to the Emergency Room for using whatever he can get his hands on. People on these DRUGS are Violent and need to be delt with as such.
Our City and State has passed several ordinances and Laws to stop the influx of "Bath Salts" and other syntethic drugs. However, many of our usual people are now getting them online and shipped to their house. Just as Matthew said Bath Salts are a Huge Problem. Freddy Sharp is NOT a VICTIM he is A USER.

Small Town COP @ 12/26/2012 1:29 PM

Hvaing personally dealt with a couple of folks OD'ed on bath salts, and reviewed the use of force reports on several other incidents, I can promise you, it will take more than just a couple of officers to control the limbs of a person who is experiencing an OD on this stuff. It has all the "bad" effects of PCP and then some.

The TASER should be effective, but that isn't always the case. Many of the folks we have had to deal with are extremely slender and have little muscle mass for th TASER to affect. In addition, because of their delirium, it has often taken MULTIPLE shots from MULTIPLE officers to get them controlled enough to restrain them.

I think Dr. Ho's heart is in the right place. To me he is saying we need to get rid of these folks and put the monkey on the back of the EMTs and ER personnel, not risk fighting them all the way to the jail and have them die.

But, like some of the other folks said, these guys made a choice to injest something into their bodies knowing there might be possible consequences. If they are doing something that justifies using deadly force against them, I vote in favor of the officer every time.

Nina @ 4/7/2013 9:13 AM

God Bless you all! Your safty comes first! You protect the innocent & not so innocent & I can not begin to tell you how greatful I am for that! I'm sure you all only resort to deadly force if it is absolutely necessary & like some of you said, these people do choose to take this stuff knowing what it can do to you! Stay safe Officers!

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