WATERVILLE — Imagine being in an elevator or other enclosed space with someone who is hallucinating, paranoid, aggressive and thinking you’re going to kill him.

It is possible that person has smoked, snorted or eaten bath salts, a dangerous synthetic drug that is sweeping the country, including Maine.

What do you do?

“I recommend you give them clear berth,” says Waterville police Det. Lincoln Ryder. “Don’t try to interact with them if you can help it.”

Ryder was asked that question Monday at a bath salts presentation he gave at Thomas College, sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs.

The questioner was Kristen McLean, 19, a psychology and criminal justice major who had just listened to Ryder talk about bath salts, or synthetic cathinones, which he said are typically sold in powder form on the street for about $50 a gram.

“This is a widespread and growing problem,” he said of bath salts usage.

Bath salts may cause an increased heart rate, delusions, nosebleeds and other symptoms and can cause kidney failure, muscle and brain damage and even death, according to Ryder.

He told McLean that anyone who sees a person acting as if he is on bath salts to be calm and nonconfrontational and call college administrative staff and security officials.

“Ultimately, they’re probably going to call for police assistance and/or the ambulance,” he said.

Someone on bath salts has very different perspective than a person who is not using drugs; for instance, he may see a police officer and think he is going to kill, not help him, Ryder said.

More than 40 students and staff attended Monday’s forum, which was publicized campuswide by Hannah Gladstone, assistant dean of students.

“It’s in the news, but we’re just trying to create awareness on campus to help educate the campus community,” Gladstone said.

Ryder, an 18-year police officer, works in the drug unit at the Police Department and has helped train Thomas dormitory resident assistants about drugs, including bath salts.

He noted that one of the difficulties in dealing with bath salts is that someone may exhibit symptoms of having taken them and tell police or emergency workers that that is what he has taken, but it may not be bath salts at all.

That also makes documenting the number of cases that have occurred locally difficult, he said.

Someone on bath salts, for instance, can exhibit symptoms similar to those exhibited by someone using cocaine, he said.

Some people may actually sell bath salts and tell the buyer it is cocaine, as cocaine sells for more money — between $80 and $100 a gram — on the street, according to Ryder.

“Somebody who thought they were taking cocaine may have been taking bath salts, or vice versa,” he said.

The Maine Poison Control Center reported 16 exposures to bath salts in Kennebec County between Jan. 1 and July 1 this year.

Ethan Chittim, 26 and a criminal justice major, asked about the volume of calls Waterville police get about people taking bath salts.

“That’s one of those questions I can’t really answer for you because most of it is anecdotal,” Ryder said, adding that some people don’t know what drug they have taken.

He said he perceives the number of cases reported locally to have decreased since Maine passed a law this year making eight synthetic cathinones illegal.

But there are 200 to 300 different synthetic cathinones out there and people who manufacture them monitor states that outlaw them and simply make more, Ryder said.

“We make eight illegal and they put nine, 10, or 11 out,” he said of the manufacturers. “We play that game where we’re playing catch-up. We’re behind all the time.”

Sophomore Carrie Hadcock, 20, said she had never even heard of bath salts before she transferred to Thomas in August from a community college in upstate New York.

A forensic psychology major with a criminal justice minor, Hadcock said she plans to be a domestic violence protection advocate when she graduates.

She said she found Ryder’s presentation informative, but added that the bath salts epidemic likely will be followed by other dangerous drugs.

“I think there’s something else that will come in, just as scary as that,” she said.

While eight synthetic cathinones are illegal in Maine, people buy them over the Internet from areas where they may not be illegal, Ryder said:

“Because of the wide touch of the Internet, there is a lot of access around the world to get it.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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