Plant food, bath salts spark concern for Tech, community

Tech is teaming up with Putnam County agencies to address a growing issue in the community-the use of dangerous, new, legal drugs. The widespread use of these new drugs, sold in gas stations and convenient stores as “bath salts” and “plant food,” has alarmed Tech officials and administrators, as well as teachers, parents, and doctors in the area.

In one of the first steps to raise awareness on the dangers of these drugs, Tech is planning a town hall meeting sometime in the near future. This event will be open to the public and Tech students.

In the past month alone, more than 30 people with symptoms related to these drugs have appeared in Cookeville Regional Medical Center. These 30 are only those who have confessed to taking the drug after being admitted; others show the symptoms of the “plant food” but do not confess to ingesting it. Those cannot be added to the count because it the new drug doesn’t show up on a drug screen.

The patients seen in the hospital have had a variety of symptoms with varying severity. The uncertainty of treatment and reaction is a big problem because of the newness of the drug, which experts say has only been on the market in this form since around August. Dr. Sullivan Smith, Cookeville Regional Emergency Services Medical Director said that the reaction can change from person to person.

“We have to study the drug,” Sullivan Smith said. “There is a range of symptoms; do they progress quickly? We just do not know.”

According to Putnam County EMS public relations officer Brandon Smith, Persons taking these drugs may seem very happy, feel an increased sense of love/desire for intimacy as well as have a greater willingness to talk than usual. Users may appear calm and under control and then may suddenly change without warning and be easily agitated and aggressive. They have a false perception of their actions which can easily lead to doing things that may cause injury or even death.

Users will typically have a very fast heart rate, large pupils and may experience insomnia, going for prolonged periods without sleep. They may even experience “worm-like” body movements and high body temperatures. Although many of the other effects of this new drug are unknown, it is known that there is potential for long-term neurological effects including brain damage or even death. Recently, one man may have even suffered a massive stroke from the effects of the “plant food”.

“You can have kidney failure, especially with repeated dosage,” Sullivan Smith said. “The first time you could take it, you might not be fine.”

Scientists know the main ingredient in the drugs to be mephedrone, or 4-methyl methcathinone. A big problem, however, is that the other contaminants in these products are unknown, because the other ingredients are not listed on the products. This is only legal because a statement on the product reads “not for human consumption”.

Because it is easily purchased and the drug remains legal in the state of Tennessee, many think that it is not dangerous; however, it has caused some local teens and adults to be hospitalized in critical condition, and some have experienced long-lasting effects still present after discharge from the hospital.

These drugs are not a problem in Tennessee alone. Other states have already banned the product, and Tennessee has a bill in the works that will do the same. Sullivan Smith said that because of the crucial nature of the issue, something must be done quickly.

“[Is it] life-threatening stuff? Absolutely.