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Bath Salts: a synthetic epidemic

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by Tom Chillemi
Second in a series. Part 1

“Bath Salts” are highly-addictive synthetic drugs that are being sold legally at two stores in Middlesex County and five in Gloucester County.

While legislation has made some Bath Salt compounds illegal, the damage continues from toxic substances found in other synthetic drugs, whose complex chemical formula allows them to skirt the law—for now.

“The first time you use them, you’re addicted,” a Warsaw woman told a group of more than 150 persons at a synthetic drug awareness meeting on Sunday in Deltaville. “I’ve been addicted to most of these (synthetic drugs), and my brother died from them.”

The woman’s name is being withheld because she has started a support group for those trying to break their chemical addiction. Modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, “Chemically Dependents Anonymous” meets on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. at 84 Main St. in Warsaw.

The woman started doing synthetic drugs when she was on probation because she knew she would not be tested for the substances in Bath Salts, which are sold in little brightly-colored packages. “I started doing them because I was on probation. I had to do them to get high,” she said. 

Synthetic drugs alter the mind immediately, and leave the user with a craving that can’t be satisfied—except with more drugs, she said. “You will be addicted whether you have an addictive personality or not.”

The reaction to these drugs mimics schizophrenia. “They make you go crazy, I had to go to the hospital,” said the woman.

Breaking the synthetic drug addiction requires help, she said. “You can rehabilitate yourself, but it’s hard. This stuff is like meth and coke combined.”

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Once his parents had decided to let him go, Matt Mooers’ mother Judy (top photo left) and friends mourn his passing. Towels were placed around his head to warm his body until he could donate organs, as he had directed.

“A dead spot in his brain”
The effects of synthetic drugs on the brain can be lethal. No one knows this more than Judy and Kevin Mooers of Heathsville in Northumberland County, whose 20-year-old son died in August.

Matt Mooers started doing Bath Salts when he was 17 years old, after a stranger approached him at a convenience store telling him that for a few dollars he could get high all night. “After he did it once he didn’t want to live a normal life,” Judy Mooers told the audience at the synthetic drug awareness meeting. Matt would later tell his parents, “If only I had said ‘no.’ ”

These “super addictive” drugs cause circulation problems, said Mrs. Mooers. When her son, a 4-time All-State wrestler, worked out, his knee caps would turn very red. He also had severe migraine headaches.

After attending a wedding in Seattle and suffering drug withdrawals on the return trip, Matt wandered off from his parents during a gas stop in Fredericksburg. He met a man who prayed with him. That was the beginning of his comeback, said Mrs. Mooers.

Matt got clean of drugs for high school wrestling season, “but that yearning was still inside him,” she said.

As a freshman at James Madison University, Matt started drinking a lot. By the second semester he was drunk almost all the time. He landed in jail for possession of alcohol and public intoxication. Although he had no shirt, one shoe and a black eye, he had no memory of how or what had happened.

A short time later, Matt was on his way to a Bible study, but may have had the wrong date. However, he heard gospel music being sung and went in the church. At the end of the service, Matt professed that he was an addict and alcoholic. Those in the church rushed to hug him. “He was a different person after that,” said Mrs. Mooers.

Matt remained sober until his last night partying, three days before he died.

He became active in Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, went on a mission trip to the New York City Bowery where he tried to help addicts who had given up.

“A rage”
About two weeks later, Matt called his parents. “I’m in a rage . . . and there is no reason for it.” Eventually, doctors diagnosed Matt. “He had a dead spot in his brain coming from the synthetic drugs he had done years earlier,” said Mrs. Mooers.

Although he had been clean for two years, Matt had drug flashbacks and was hallucinating that people were looking in his windows, and people were standing in the road when he was driving.

Matt’s parents are still trying to figure out what happened the night of August 14, 2012. From Matt’s text messages to a friend, his parents learned, “I need one night of fun . . . I need a break, don’t worry.”

Mrs. Mooers added, “In the mind of every addict is a demon saying, ‘You’ve been good. You deserve some fun.’ ”

His friend found him unconscious around noon on the following day. His heart had stopped. The rescue squad worked 20 minutes to get his heart started.

There was little brain activity. He was placed on a respirator and his parents were called. “We knew it was unlikely he would recover,” said Mrs. Mooers.

His friends filled the waiting room in Harrisonburg Hospital. Some revealed how Matt had helped them break free of drugs, and how he had apologized for influencing them to do drugs.

His parents honored Matt’s wish to donate his organs and made the decision to terminate life support.

The police investigation into Matt Mooers’ death continues, said his father Kevin. Those who partied with Matt on his final night could face murder charges, and “they have retained lawyers,” he added.

The chemicals in some Bath Salts are unknown and those who make and sell them don’t always know the full extent of their effect, said Mr. Mooers. “They don’t know what the drugs will do,” he said. “They only find out when they sell them.”

By the time Matt Mooers learned what their effects were—it was too late.

Only the beginning
At the conclusion of Sunday’s meeting, Reverend John Snow of Zoar Baptist Church in Deltaville asked the group to remain vigilant against synthetic drugs and visit http://www.zoarbaptistchurch.org for updates. “Do not leave here tonight thinking this is someone else’s problem.”

Part 3

posted 10.24.2012

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