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IU Health & Wellness: Designer drugs, banning or taxing sodas

Research and insights from Indiana University

June 21, 2012

IU Health and Wellness for June discusses the following topics:

Bath salts, Spice: A wolf in sheep's clothing
Proposed soda ban a slippery slope

Designer drugs: A wolf in sheep's clothing

How could anything with such a benign name as bath salts, spice or bliss be dangerous? Think of these synthetic drugs instead as ever-changing narcotic concoctions designed to be easily available and one step ahead of prosecution.

"One of the scariest things about designer or synthetic drugs is that manufacturers are constantly changing the formulations in order to avoid the law," said Courtney Stewart with the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University Bloomington. "Because these chemicals and their effects on the human body have not been studied, many of the dangers are not yet known. We do know they can be purchased easily online, and some of their effects include increased blood pressure, confusion, hallucinations and extreme agitation."

Recent news reports of a gruesome attack on a homeless man in Miami have drawn attention to bath salts and other synthetic drugs because of their implication in the unusual attack. Also called designer drugs, these drugs are created to mimic substances like marijuana and cocaine. Substances like K2 -- also known as Spice -- contain dried and shredded plant material with the addition of various chemicals included to cause a high. Bath salts or ivory wave, bliss and cloud nine are powder-like substances that contain synthetic stimulants. Both bath salts and K2 have been designated as Schedule I substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which means they have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefits.

Stewart said it is illegal to sell these drugs in Indiana, but not in several other states. In 2011, Indiana passed House Bill 1196, making 60 of the chemical compounds found in bath salts and K2 illegal substances and giving the Indiana Board of Pharmacy emergency powers to declare a substance a synthetic drug in order to ban it from sale. This part of the law makes it easier for the state to keep up with the manufacturers of designer drugs who frequently change the chemicals included in order to get around state laws. Despite House Bill 1196, drugs such as bath salts and K2 are widely available online.

Because such drugs are popular among youth due to their accessibility and the perception that they are natural and legal, Stewart said it is extremely important that parents talk to their kids about them. She offers the following tips:

  • Monitor and supervise youth activities.
  • Communicate -- possibly the most important tip. Parents should talk with their kids and ask them what they know about these drugs. Let them know parents' expectations in clear terms -- that parents expect them to not use these or any drugs and the consequences of any use.
  • Parents need to educate themselves about what these drugs look like, where they are available and the effects they have. With this knowledge, parents can inform their kids about the dangers in addition to teaching them drug resistance skills.
  • Parents should praise good behavior and drug refusal, expressing pride in children for not taking drugs.

For more information including podcasts and webinars about K2 and bath salts, visit the IPRC's website.

Stewart can be reached at 812-855-5556 and The IPRC is part of the Department of Applied Health Science in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Top

Proposed soda ban a slippery slope

A "slippery slope" is what an Indiana University School of Medicine public health expert calls New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's call-to-action proposal banning sugary soft drinks larger than 16 ounces.

Americans are used to the freedom of choice, said Eric R. Wright, professor and interim chair of the IU Department of Public Health and director of the IU Center for Health Policy. With that choice come consequences, but the result of unhealthy eating behavior today may not show up for 20 years. That is one reason he believes politicians are reluctant to legislate healthy behaviors; the benefits enjoyed by the voters don't materialize until the proactive politician is merely a notation in the record books.

"Americans have enjoyed unbridled freedom without being asked to take responsibility for our actions, and the reality is that this contributes to the rising cost of health care," Wright said. "Many believe that market mechanisms will control bad behavior and improve our health, but so far the evidence suggests that they are not enough."

There are ways we can help the market work in a more positive way, he said. Research conducted at the Center for Health Policy shows that the overall rate of adult smoking in Indiana can be cut by 1.3 percent if the tax on a pack of cigarettes is increased by 25 cents. The impact on younger smokers -- under the age of 18 -- is even greater: for each 25-cent increase, youth smoking could be reduced by approximately 4 percent.

"The current market place is making money by promoting bad habits," he said.

Research has shown that price increases through taxation on products do reduce consumption, but it would probably take a 20 percent tax on fatty foods to curb behavior enough to have an impact on obesity rates.

However, Bloomberg is not the first to propose behavior modification through financial incentives or supply and demand. Soft drinks and some sugar-laden foods are taxed in Europe, and Canada has imposed a junk-food tax.

Wright says he does not advocate for a "fat tax" or for controlling the products available to consumers, but he does applaud Bloomberg for starting a good debate.

"The health consequences of the super-sized beverages and foods are enormous," he said. Obesity is a major health concern in the United States, and incentives need to be offered to help people want to make "good health choices."

Wright can be reached at 317-274-3161 or For additional assistance, contact Mary Hardin at 317-274-7722 or Top

For additional assistance, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or For more health and wellness information from Indiana University, check out the Health & Vitality blog and @Vitality_IU on Twitter.