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Local Law Enforcement Wary After Florida Face-Eating Attack

Officers say bizarre behavior can occur through use of 'bath salts' and synthetic drugs

Authorities have speculated that the man allegedly responsible for a gruesome face-eating incident in Miami could have been high on “bath salts,” synthetic drugs designed to mimic the effects of substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Miami police and witnesses saw Rudy Eugene, 31, naked and hunched over a 65-year-old homeless man while eating away the man’s face, authorities have said. Eugene was shot and killed by officers after refusing to get off the man, later identified as Ronald Poppo, and apparently growling at officers, according to news reports.

Poppo is reported to be in critical condition.

The Drug Enforcement Administration all the way down to local police have been concerned with synthetic drugs because of their dangerous side effects, which can include paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, uncontrollable shakes and seizures.

The DEA reported that emergency-room physicians see people using these products coming in with convulsions, anxiety attacks, vomiting, disorientation and dangerously elevated heart rates and blood pressure.

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood said there weren’t any notable local incidents related to the synthetic drugs, but they are enough of a concern that the substances are incorporated into training.

“We watch YouTube videos of people under the influence of things like that, and it’s pretty frightening,” Harwood said. “It is something we’re aware of and concerned about.”

While bath salts are meant to mimic the effects of hallucinogens or stimulants such as meth, K2/Spice products are synthetic marijuana made of herbs sprayed with a variety of chemicals meant to mimic THC, the active ingredient in pot.

Last year, the DEA categorized five chemicals used in synthetic marijuana as Schedule I substances, and three of the chemicals used in bath salts, making them and the products containing them illegal. The three bath salt chemicals were the result of an emergency action because of a perceived threat to public safety, and the DEA has one year to decide if the substances need to be permanently controlled.

The emerging drugs are inexpensive and undetectable in over-the-counter drug tests, and Ventura-area school resource officers especially have seen an increase in incidents of people possessing both types of synthetic drugs, the Ventura Police Department said in a warning statement Thursday.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in October that banned the same five synthetic marijuana chemicals targeted by the DEA, making it a misdemeanor to sell or possess the products, which are often marketed as incense and packages claim they’re “not for human consumption.” However, manufacturers can be quick to adapt around banned compounds and change formulas just enough to stay legal, according to The Associated Press.

Smoke shops in Santa Barbara were selling synthetic marijuana products after the DEA banned certain chemicals, and maintained that their particular brands didn’t contain those five substances. Police have cautioned that drugs for sale don’t have ingredients listed on their packages — whether bought at a storefront or online — and could be dangerous.

Click here for more information and resources in Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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