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Bath salt abuse edging into D.C. region

Thursday - 6/14/2012, 2:43pm  ET

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Ronald Poppo, 65, was the victim in a bizarre face-chewing attack in Miami on May 26. Authorities say his left eye was removed and they're hoping to restore vision in his right eye. (AP)

WASHINGTON - "Bath salts" have been linked to several bizarre criminal attacks in recent months and authorities say problems with the chemical concoction are edging into the D.C. region.

The nation was shocked last month when a homeless man's face was eaten alongside a busy Miami Highway by a man authorities speculate was under the influence of the stimulant drug known as bath salts.

Months before, media reports circulated that a 21-year-old Louisiana man cut his own throat and shot himself under the influence of the drug. And in Maine, authorities say a woman under the influence thought her teeth were filled with ticks and attempted to cut them out.

Police in Harrisonburg, Va. say they're investigating a case regarding a man who died from a bath salt overdose after injecting the drug into his system. And several patients have been treated at emergency rooms in the Shenendoah Valley, authorities say.

The Maryland Poison Center received 75 bath salt-related calls last year, with the majority of users between ages of 40 and 49.

Nationally, incidences involving the drug skyrocketed 2,000 percent 2011 with the number of calls reporting exposure to the drug shooting from 304 in 2010 to 6,138 in 2011, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

As of May 31 of this year, there have been 1,302 calls.

Bath salts are a synthetic powder that are sold online and at a number of head shops across the country. They typically sell under a variety of names for $25 to $50 for a 50-milligram packet.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says little is known about the chemical, which is the newest fad used to get high. The drugs often contain amphetamine-like substances, such as mephedrone and pyroalerone, which people take orally, snort or inject. They're often used as a cocaine substitute. It is unclear how addictive they are.

Many states, including Maryland and Virginia, have banned the drugs, according to the institute.

Mike Gimbel, a drug expert at St. Joseph Medical Center in Baltimore, says one obstacle to controlling the drug is its recipe. Manufacturers keep changing how the drug is made, which makes it more difficult to criminalize.

What's more, the recipe changes are "making the drug stronger and stronger all the time," Gimbel says.

In addition to the high, users say they experience hallucinations and paranoia, which Gimbel says can cause the "psychotic behavior that we're seeing in Florida."

Lucy Caldwell, with Fairfax County Police, says "Officers have not seen any evidence of widespread use. Fortunately, if in the county at all, it's very minimal, as it appears to be a horrible drug."

Calls to other local law enforcement agencies were not immediately returned on Wednesday morning.

Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)