LAS VEGAS -- Designer drugs, known as bath salts, are being blamed for dozens of bizarre and violent incidents nationwide. Recently there was a cannibal attack on a homeless man that left him without a face.
Despite those cautionary tales, bath salts remain in high demand, including among those who face court-ordered sobriety.
For people charged with drug-related crimes, Nevada's drug courts serve as an alternative to prison. To avoid lock-up, participants must successfully complete treatment, including frequent drug testing. However, those intent on getting high have found a way to beat the system -- but only temporarily.
Few people charged with a crime choose to broadcast their misdeeds, but that's not the case for Austin Graham. He hopes his public confession may save someone else the same fate.
"I knew if I didn't say anything to my counselor, I'd either end up dead or back to square one or in prison," he said.
Graham should've graduated from drug court last month which was a key condition of his probation for felony drug possession. Instead, Graham appears for yet another status check following his admission to the use of synthetic cocaine, or bath salts.
"I hit a breaking point. I knew a couple of people that have been using bath salts in the program for the entire time. I figured, well if they can get away with it, I can get away with it."
Although drug court participants undergo frequent random drug testing, the standard screen does not check for bath salts or for synthetic marijuana, known as Spice. The bath salts and Spice have become a popular alternative to more illicit highs and are sold at some smoke shops.
Drug court coordinator Stephanie Maplethorpe explains the program can and will test for synthetics when counselors suspect its abuse. Each screening costs an additional $30 and results can take up to three days.
"We really try to stay on top of it because it can be so harming. Some of our people, that have used the bath salts, they've had a psychotic break and gone into the hospital because of it. It's very scary," Maplethorpe said.
Graham too experienced health problems, including dramatic weight loss, a rapid heartbeat, even a hole in his nose, after just a few weeks of use. The 23-year-old points to his mind -- or the loss of it -- as the main motivator for coming clean.
"It was really just almost like a nightmare, like living in a nightmare. You couldn't get out of it," Graham said.
Now several weeks sober Graham stands before Judge Kathleen Delaney with pride.
To get a handle on the scope of the problem, the drug court did an unannounced sweep of all of its participants last week to test for bath salts and for Spice. It was the first time the court had done that. While the results are not yet in, of the 128 participants, only two self-reported they would be positive for Spice.
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