Bath Salts: The Latest Scapegoat?

By Tony O'Neill 06/01/12

This week's knee-jerk rush to blame horrific news stories on "drugs" isn't necessarily accurate—or helpful.

"Bath salts" take a lot of blame. Photo via

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you've heard the horrific story of the “Miami Cannibal,” Rudy Eugine, who chewed the face from poor Ronald Poppo before being shot by police. Speculation has centered on the idea that the killer was crazed on the designer drug “bath salts,” which police are erroneously comparing to a “potent form of LSD." These claims have been widely repeated in reports on the attack—without any proof as yet that the killer had taken the drug. Still, framing the attack like this has had a predictable effect: namely, countless outraged editorials decrying the use of the drug and calling for bans. “If anyone needs more proof that drugs are dangerous,” says one typical article, “the report of the naked Miami face-eating man is enough to scare anyone clean and sober.” And then there's the president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, Armando Aguilar, who has already moved from "suspecting" that bath salts are involved, to apparently being sure of it. “I have a message for whoever is selling it out there,” Aguilar says. “You can be arrested for murder if you are selling this [new] LSD to people, unsuspecting people on the street and somebody ends up dying as a result you will be charged with murder.”

Now “drugs” are again being blamed in the recent New Jersey case of a man who disemboweled himself and threw his own intestines at the cops. Expect to see more of this; “bath salts” are apparently the new drug bogeyman, so they're unlikely to escape the blame for much in the next few months. Nothing sells like a good drug scare—remember crack babies? But as Professor David Nutt recently pointed out in The Guardian, such hysteria helps no one—least of all addicts—and the truth is often a far cry from the picture painted by politicians and the popular press.

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.