ANCHORAGE - Jake leans forward in his navy blue recliner and grabs a clear, 50-milligram bag containing a sparkling white substance – the designer drug known as “bath salts,” which has made headlines across the nation. He plays with it in his fingertips before opening it. He licks the tip of his finger, dips it inside, then puts it in his mouth and sucks the white powder off. “It’s a habit. It’s how I test blow.”
He opens the small sack, and gently taps the side as he pours a pile onto the battered, wooden coffee table in front of him. He cuts it into a line, then snorts it.
He leans back in his chair, pushes his black, messy hair to the side and smiles, highlighting his prominent cheekbones. He looks at ease.
“It truly is bliss. It distorts reality, and makes me feel larger than life and disconnected – in a good way.”
The 22-year-old construction worker, who asked KTVA that we only use his first name, finds escape in a drug that in recent years has become more popular – and deadly. He said it fills a void in his “empty” lifestyle.
On June 6, Governor Sean Parnell signed a piece of legislature that added bath salts (or synthetic cocaine) to the list of Schedule IIA controlled substances – it joins methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD. Bath salts are now illegal to possess, manufacture, sell or distribute.
The bill was originally introduced by Senator Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage) last October and just days after Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan introduced an ordinance to ban the chemical compound that makes up the base of bath salts: mephedrone, methylone (MDMA) methylenedioxpyrovalerone or MDPV.
“These drugs are making people very sick, suicidal and very, very, violent,” said Meyer, in a press release dated October 6, 2011.
The drug was being sold at gas stations and smoke shops, labeled as bath salts, insect repellent, plant food, incense, potpourri or dietary supplements.
“This legislation recognizes the significant threat these substances poses to the health and safety of Alaskans and their communities,” said Governor Parnell in a press release after he signed the bill into law.
The effects of bath salts, or “Bliss,” as Jake refers to it, are described as synthetic cocaine or similar to PCP, methamphetamine or LSD. The compound, also referred to as Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky or Purple Rain, is a street drug often containing MDPV.
Jake scored the bath salts for $30 from a man who lives in Cooper Landing; a man who Jake said “can get anything, for anyone.” And although he has never purchased it from anyone else, he said the price can very from $25 to $50, depending on whom you buy from. Friends of his buy it online for about the same cost.
Bath salts can be smoked, injected, but Jake prefers to snort the powder. “I know snorting is bad for your nose, but I don’t give a [expletive]. I mean I stopped doing blow because I could feel my nose wasting away,” he pauses, chuckles and shrugs his shoulders. “I think it’s safer than shooting.”
In Congress ,Alaska Senior Senator Lisa Murkowski helped pass a national bill that cracks down on the use of synthetic drugs – including bath salts and spice (synthetic marijuana).
In 2011, Annals of Emergency Medicine published a study saying the first record of bath salts appearing was in Germany in 2007. In 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Center reported it received 303 calls with people reacting to the drug. By 2011 that number skyrocketed to 6,100.
The number of bath salts related incidents in Alaska is hard to track. “Bath salts exposure or use is not something we track here,” said spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services Greg Wilkinson.
In a case series by the State of Alaska Epidemiology, they looked at three patients who were all admitted to Alaska Hospitals for various reasons. A 24-year-old man had severe abdominal pain, a 42-year-old man was being evaluated for delirium and serotonin syndrome and a 55-year-old woman was quickly admitted into a critical care unit after going into cardiac arrest.
They all eventually admitted to using bath salts, but a drug test never detected it.
Jake said he’s not scared of the consequences and refers to the substance as “just another drug.” He recalls his first drug – mushrooms. He took them at the age of 13. His father thought it would be a nice way to introduce him to his teenage years: It was his birthday.
“When I first did it, I remember, colors seemed brighter and life seemed better, but no one gets addicted to ‘shrooms. It’s just not that kind of drug.”
In the time that followed he smoked marijuana and opium, took ecstasy, shot up heroin, smoked meth, tripped on LSD and PCP... He popped painkillers and favored OxyContin. He laughed hard at the mention of “spice,” the recently banned synthetic marijuana. “That doesn’t count.”
He continued reciting his list, describing the effect each substance took on his body.
“All in all though, cocaine was my kryptonite. I mean I love cocaine. I don’t love anything the same way. I play with other stuff, but after I do bath salts a few times I will just do blow. It’s easy. Easy to find, easy to do, easy to love.
“I mean I don’t do blow if I am doing bath salts, and I do like bath salts, but it’s different. It can be hard to handle.”
He’s thought about quitting and getting help, but he said it would be pointless to try. “The treatment centers here don’t give a [expletive] about men. They help women and pregnant women. The rest of us [quit] alone or not at all.”
According to the Center for Drug Problems Clinical Director Ron Greene, there really is no program for people who abuse bath salts, and drug users seeking treatment are wait-listed. The center’s priority is pregnant woman.
“I mean I could quit,” Jake said. “I mean, I don’t think I am addicted to [bath salts]. This is the first time I have done it in like a week,” he says, and happily inhales another line. He leans back in his recliner, closes his eyes and sits without saying anything for two minutes.
His mind seems to be wandering; he’s first mentioning the cocaine he did yesterday, then a fight he got into in the first grade, ranting about his roommate. His mind racing, bouncing from thought to thought, it’s like someone’s pressed a button and he’s living in fast-forward.
He stares intently at a photograph hanging on the wall. He stands up, wobbly at first, but then regains his balance. He walked across the room and stares at the photograph of three men. He points to a young kid – “me” – he runs his finger to the next kid, his brother.
“[He] was my brother. He don’t want much to do with me now. He’s got a daughter, pretty, blonde thing. Hates me.” Jake looks sad, but then his mood shifts and he spouts out colorful insults aimed at the picture and then slams his fist into the wall next to the photograph.
He quickly hustles himself back to the chair, rocks back and forth quickly and seems to be thinking. “You should leave,” he says.
Days later Jake heads to pick up Elizabeth. She is short and curvy. Her face is bony and her hair is long and messy. She is stumbling out of an apartment off of Muldoon and she struggles to make it down the staircase.
The young woman spots Jake is his 1994 Chevy extended cab. She hops in the back seat and is shaking her head. She begins to sob and hit her hand on the window.
“Calm down Liz,” Jake says and puts his hand on her shoulder and rubs. She grabs his hand and violently throws it off of her, but it doesn’t faze him. “Liz, it’s okay. It will all be okay.” She is shaking now and puts her head in her lap. “Pull over!” She shrieks and Jake jumps.
The car hasn’t even stopped moving and Elizabeth is opening the door and vomiting. When she is done she wipes her mouth on her black Alaska Grown sweatshirt, and for the moment seems okay.
“I gotta get some,” Elizabeth smiles and tells Jake.
Jake responds proudly, “No. I don’t want it.”
She responds “Then why the [expletive] did you pick me up?” She is shaking again.
“Because you asked me to, calm down.”
“All I have is blow,” he takes out a small bag and hands her the latest Sports Illustrated. She cuts a line and snorts it off of the magazine, takes a breath and all of her anger seems gone.
KTVA asked Jake why he didn’t want to get bath salts and he began to sob. He put his face into his rough hands and replied “I can’t. I can’t. I have to stop. I hate who I am. I hate it. You will never understand. Do you know how old I am? Do you? Because the other day my co-worker asked me how old I am and I didn’t [expletive] know. My brain is [expletive] shot. It’s [expletive] shot. I had to look at my [expletive] ID. Do you want to know what is more [expletive] up?” He takes a minute and takes a deep breath. “Do you know what she was doing in that apartment? She had been on bath salts for hours. She will never graduate high school; she will never go to school. Do you know how she gets drugs? Do you? She trades. She trades herself for bath salts. And if I was her father I would shoot me because I am just as bad. I supply her so she doesn’t [expletive] for bath salts.”
Jake throws his hands up and rolls up his sleeve. “Do you see my arm? Do you see it? Do you know what those marks are? Shooting scars. That’s a lot right? Her [expletive] arms are scarred; they are ruined. She is not beautiful because she is a drug addict.”
He walks out of the room and goes into the bathroom where Elizabeth had been vomiting. Fifteen minutes pass and the bathroom door opens and they both walk out. Jake still has a belt tourniquet on his arm and he seems more together than before.
“We’re going to get Bliss,” Jake says and looks at the floor. He grabs the reporter’s arm and holds her gaze. “You shouldn’t come back, because at the end of the day a drug addict is a drug addict. I won’t get clean – even if I want to. The day I am clean is the day I die, and that could be in a month or when I am 60, but today I’m alive, and so today I’m buying Bliss.”