US health officials have seen a surge in the number of people using bug spray to get high.
In the last year the alarming trend has been reported in Mississippi, Tennessee and most recently Indiana.
Exposure to high concentrations of the active ingredients in bug spray creates what’s been described as a zombie-like state with unpredictable behavior including convulsions, difficulty breathing and rage.
Emergency responders have struggled to keep up with the changing combinations of drugs laced with household chemicals for more than a decade and experts warn that even if the bug spray trend is stopped, another will likely pop up in its place.
Health officials in Mississippi, Tennessee and Indiana have reported an increasing number of overdoses from people getting high off of heavy-duty bug sprays such as Raid in the last year
The active ingredients in bug spray, called pyrethroids, are considered to be safe in small exposures.
However, exposure to high concentrations can cause respiratory distress and over-activity in the central nervous system that leads to sweating, muscle spasms or seizure, and the risk of falling into a coma.
‘It’s why we use it on bugs, because it overstimulates the bug, they have the equivalent of seizures and die,’ Indiana Poison Center’s medical director Daniel Rusyniak told the IndyStar.
In Indianapolis, KD is the street name for a group of bug spray-laced drugs including marijuana, spice, tobacco and banana leaves.
Firefighter Scott Lebherz told the IndyStar that bags of KD are sold for about $20 and create a catatonic high for about 45 minutes.
‘You look at what it does to a bug and then you got to think what it’s doing to your brain, and your body and everything else,’ Lebherz said.
In January emergency medical personnel were called to aid a total of 17 people who were believed to have overdosed on ‘Katie’ – another mix of spice and an unknown chemical or drug – near a homeless shelter in downtown Indianapolis called Wheeler Mission.
In December a Tennessee man admitted to smoking ‘wasp’ – a mix of methamphetamine and bug spray – before breaking into a home and trying to cut himself at a family’s dinner table.
Mississippi law enforcement officials warned of a dangerous drug called ‘hot shots’ last July – which requires crystallizing wasp spray with a battery before melting it down and injecting it intravenously.
‘A person will stand at a jail cell door, slobber like a mad dog, wanting to fight. Everything is wrong, nothing is right for one minute, then calm down and be just like a normal human being and then go right back into a rage,’ Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell told NewsMS about the drug.
In the past decade there have been many reports of drugs including ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana being laced with widely-available chemicals such as rat poison – with deadly effects.
A person will stand at a jail cell door, slobber like a mad dog, wanting to fight. Everything is wrong, nothing is right for one minute, then calm down and be just like a normal human being and then go right back into a rage
Sheriff Cecil Cantrell, Monroe County, Mississippi
These chemicals are said to increase the ‘buzz’ from the drugs, but they are toxic for the brain.
Rusyniak said mixing drugs with other chemicals is a common way for dealers to make more money.
‘Cutting your drug with ingredients has been a longtime thing that drug dealers have done to increase profits,’ he said.
Because there is obviously no guideline for the production of laced drugs and rarely any warning about what drugs may be laced with, users don’t know how it will affect them.
Rusyniak said that many people using drugs laced with bug spray likely know the dangers associated with it but use them anyway because they’re addicted.
‘It’s a different decision making process,’ he said. ‘There’s a difference between “What’s bad for me”, which requires you to think forward, versus “I need to get high now”.’
Dan O’Donnell, medical director for the Indianapolis Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services, said treating a person who’s overdosed on a mixed drug like KD is difficult because their individual reaction is different depending on the concentration of the chemical, the base ingredients used and their physiological response.
‘Someone can go from extremely combative to suddenly unconscious, not breathing and potentially in cardiac arrest,’ O’Donnell told the IndyStar.
‘We try to stay on top of it as much as we can through education and training and situational awareness about just what drugs are in the city, but as soon as we kind of catch up to one, they seem to introduce a new substance out there.’
O’Donnell also warned that little is known about the long-term consequences of getting high off bug spray.
Drug overdose deaths have increase five-fold in the past two decades in large part because of the opioid epidemic, which claims the lives of 115 Americans every day.
A 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that drug overdose deaths now kill more Americans than fatal illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia – which, combined, kill about 57,000 people.