The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently banned chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, but resurgent popularity of cough syrup cocktails made with vending machine snacks and brisk sales of bath salts indicate increasing, hazardous practice of using other lawful products to get high.

Bath Salts

Sold at convenience stores, gas stations and over the Internet under names like Blue Silk, Ivory Wave and White Lightening, bath salts are injected, smoked and snorted. Users experience euphoria, extreme energy, insomnia, intense anger and hallucinations. Suicides have been reported.

Mephedrone and methylenedioxyprovalerone (MDPV) are the chemicals responsible for these effects. In addition to the 50-milligram bath salt packets that sell for between $25 and $50, plant food and herbal incense also contain these substances.

Mephedrone and MDPV have been a problem in Europe for the last several years. In 2010, confronted with mounting overdoses and deaths, the United Kingdom banned bath salts containing these substances. Meanwhile, in the United States, poison control centers are receiving more calls related to their abuse. For example, after just eight bath salt calls for all of 2010, a center in St. Louis fielded 12 in the first two weeks of this year.

Purple Drank

Purple Drank combines prescription-strength cough syrup, carbonated lemon-lime soda and, sometimes, juice, sports drinks or alcohol with hard candy. That is why, despite its name, Purple Drank’s color varies. A number of deaths have been linked to this highly addictive concoction. Syrup, sizzurp and Texas Tea are other names for Purple Drank.

The Purple Drank high is similar to that of methamphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine. Side effects include sedation, slurred speech, euphoria and motor skill impairment. Purple Drank can also cause itchiness, constipation, dental decay, urinary tract infections and weight gain.

Antihistamine promethazine and pain reliever codeine are Purple Drank’s key ingredients. These drugs are found in a number of brand name medications that treat allergies, colds, influenza and pain.

Purple Drank first surfaced in the Houston area in the 1960s. Its revival coincides with glamorization by the hip-hop culture. Purple Drank and codeine possession led to arrests of several professional athletes including former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell (charges were dropped), Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolley (avoided jail time with a plea deal but was suspended by the team) and former NBA basketball player Shawne Williams (indicted on felony drug charges and placed on probation). In addition, rapper Z-Ro is currently waiting on a trial date.

For concerns pertaining to any of these products, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) offers free, confidential services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-800-222-1222.

Drug Testing

Without a valid prescription, it is against the law to possess codeine. It is also illegal to use codeine for purposes other than that for which it was prescribed. Many employers drug test on their jobsites and if an employee tests positive for codeine but does not have a valid prescription, or if their level of codeine causes concern, the employee may be subject to discipline up to and including termination.

The LHSFNA is committed to helping contractors keep their jobsites safe and free from drugs and alcohol as well as helping LIUNA members who have drug or alcohol problems. The LHSFNA has various educational and program materials available through the Fund’s online catalogue. The Fund also assists in all aspects of drug-free workplace programs, whether it is policy review, employee or management training, implementing testing programs or addressing rehabilitation.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]