Why People Thought 'Bath Salts' Made Rudy Eugene Eat Ronald Poppo's Face

In a well-informed and revealing Playboy article, Frank Owen analyzes "a classic drug panic," explaining how and why Rudy Eugene's grisly assault on Ronald Poppo in Miami last May came to be blamed on "bath salts," a group of quasi-legal stimulants that Eugene, a.k.a. the Causeway Cannibal and the Miami Zombie, had not in fact consumed. Owen fingers some of the same culprits I did in my post-mortem examination of the story—most conspicuously, Armando Aguilar, president of the local police union. Owen says Aguilar, worried that yet another case of a Latino officer (Jose Ramirez) shooting an African American (Eugene) would give critics of the Miami Police Department new ammunition, "decided to bury the racial angle by feeding local reporters an alternative narrative that would prove irresistible: A flesh-eating monster high on a sinister new drug called bath salts devoured a homeless man's face." Those local reporters, who set off a worldwide media frenzy featuring headlines such as "New 'Bath Salts' Zombie-Drug Makes Americans Eat Each Other," swallowed the tall tale eagerly and begged for more:

"The officer believes the man clearly, clearly was on some very, very powerful drugs," said [WFOR] news anchor Cynthia Demos.

"That's right, Cynthia," said reporter Tiffani Helberg. "The Fraternal Order of Police president tells me this crop of LSD"—referring to bath salts—"is a major threat to police officers as well as the rest of us. He says it turns normal people into monsters that possess this superhuman strength and no ability to feel pain."

Reporters didn’t seem to care that Aguilar had no expertise in the pharmacological action of drugs on the human brain or that he didn’t provide a scintilla of credible evidence that bath salts were involved in any of these cases. Horror stories about intoxicants have been a staple of American reporting since the temperance crusades, but this one was the mother of all drug-scare stories. It was too good for journalists to fact-check.

Widely quoted emergency room physician Paul Adams, who gave a scientific veneer to Aguilar's wild speculation, likewise seemed willing to credit whatever cops told him about the latest scary drug on the street:

"Bath salts combine the worst effects of LSD, the worst effects of crystal meth and the worst effects of PCP,"says Adams as he strolls through the corridors of the ER. “People on bath salts have no limitations. They don’t perceive pain. They seem as if they have superhuman strength."...

If the police union president said bath salts turn users into turbocharged ogres, the physician would underscore his point with a story about how it took four or five ER personnel to hold down a bath salts zombie, maybe even six, depending on which reporter he told the story to. [Or possibly eight.] (Adams now tells me it takes at least two ER personnel to sedate someone on bath salts.)

If Aguilar said bath salts were the new form of LSD, Adams would concur that you "can call it the new LSD," even though he knows LSD and bath salts are completely different drugs....

Starting in early 2011, Adams began to notice patients who were clearly under the influence of some sort of psychoactive substance exhibiting strange and erratic behavior. These cases weren't just violent. What was odd was that while they exhibited the classic clinical symptoms of stimulant overdose—rapid heart rate, overheating, hallucinations, aggressive behavior—their blood tests came back clean. No cocaine, no methamphetamine, no LSD, no marijuana, not even the presence of alcohol. Something was going on out there on Miami’s dangerous streets that Adams didn’t know about, but what exactly? He asked some of his law enforcement contacts and heard the term bath salts.

Adams came to his conclusion. "Our emergency room tests don’t detect everything," he says. "One of the drugs they don’t detect is bath salts. If I want to test for bath salts, I have to send samples to an outside laboratory. When somebody tests negative for everything, it’s a good bet bath salts are involved."

Got that? The man of science takes his medical cues from police officers, assuming that anyone who acts weird but tests negative for drugs must be on these "bath salts" he has been hearing so much about. To this day, even after toxicological tests on Eugene's body revealed no drug but marijuana, Aguilar insists "there was something else in Rudy Eugene’s system other than marijuana that the medical examiner didn’t detect," possibly "a new form of bath salts or maybe even a completely new compound that we don't yet know about."

Owen is too easy on the major media outlets, such as CBS, ABC, U.S. News & World Report, and Spin, that credulously climbed aboard the "bath salts" ban wagon (which ended in a federal law prohibiting two common "bath salt" ingredients, enacted the same day we learned that the drugs played no role in Eugene's horrible crime). If these organizations had been a bit more skeptical (as The Miami Herald, to its credit, was), the scare would not have taken off the way it did. And while I agree with Owen that "believing voodoo caused Rudy Eugene to attack Ronald Poppo was no more an example of magical thinking than was blaming bath salts," I'm not sure why he thinks that saying "mental illness" caused the attack is any more scientific. Still, a psychiatrist Owen quotes to that effect helps explain the appeal of all these explanations:

We as a society have a preoccupation with drugs as evil. It's less threatening for people to believe that some evil substance caused this incident because the alternative explanation is too frightening—that some people can act like this on their own without drugs being involved.

Owen ultimately concludes that "whatever brought the Miami Zombie to life will probably never be fully known." His tolerance of uncertainty and his keen nose for fear-mongering bullshit sadly set him apart from most (but not all) journalists covering drug issues.

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  • waaminn||

    Dude makes a ll kinds of sense man, Wow.

    www.AnonDid.tk

  • PapayaSF||

    All I want for Christmas is the cancelation of waaminn's account.

  • Sevo||

    All you'll get is three more bots.
    Merry Christmas; nice day in SF. The state and city governments didn't make notable fools of themselves today. The rain has shut up the climate catastrophists.
    And you might head a bit south to New England Lobster in B'game if you get a chance. Really good shellfish, and food lacking the SF mandate costs.

  • PapayaSF||

    Sevo, are you local? Maybe we could meet for a beer sometime.

  • ||

    I agree. Pedo-Bot is a plague. Vermin. The NAMBLA Bot.

    There is only Tiggy Foo!

    Love,

    Julie Newmar

  • AlmightyJB||

    Never saw the movie but loved Newmar as catwoman. She was also a pretty hot devil chick on a Twilight Zone episode.

  • JW||

    First! (non-bot comment)

  • ||

    Merry Christma, JW.-D

  • JW||

    Merry Christmas Doc!

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Methinks that the gun grabbers are all on bath salts.

    And those are taking part in the Cosmo-Yokel-tarian "debate."

  • Hyperion||

    Me thinks that the gun grabbers don't have any guns. Let them try to take ours.

  • mnarayan||

    Sounds just like something a Cosmotarian would say.

  • American Is Back||

    +1

  • Hyperion||

    Secondeth

    54,000 sigs to deport Limeytard Piers Morgan, lol.

    He's not a citizen and should keep his Limey mealy mouth the fuck shut.

    I'm not for deporting him, I'm for kicking the shit out of him and putting him on a raft afloat on the sea.

    Fuck this SOB, he wants to come here and tell us what our rights are, or not, he needs to be prepared to get his ass kicked just like his pussy ancestors did.

  • JW||

    Jeremy Clarkson is asking, nicely, that we keep him.

  • Hyperion||

    Who the fuck is Jeremy Clarkson? He goes on the raft with the Limey!

  • JW||

    [shakes head at Hyperion] Host of Top Gear, international gentleman blowhard of culture.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_2ZsMFY0fg

  • Sevo||

    Why do all the professional English-twits wanna live in our horrible culture and death-dealing medical system?
    Wonder if revealed preference has anything to do with it?

  • Hyperion||

    Jealousy. They can't get over the fact that their lazy ancestors sat on their lazy and stupid limey arses while the more adventurous sailed the seas in search of adventure and a better life.

  • Lord at War||

    "The cowards never came, and the weaklings died on the way."- Robert A. Heinlein

  • Hyperion||

    Great quote.

    When are they going to release the moon is a harsh mistress on e-book?

  • SweatingGin||

    I'll just leave this here.

    Think I found the link here in the first place, anyway. Might need to use Calibre or similar to load it on a kindle, but it loaded right onto my ipad from the link.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    I'm sure he's praising the 5th and 14th amendments right about now.

  • Ted S.||

    Piers Morgan may be an idiot, but I'm stunned people don't realize how silly they look petitioning for him to be deported over his political views.

  • Sevo||

    Ted S.| 12.24.12 @ 10:19PM |#
    "Piers Morgan may be an idiot, but I'm stunned people don't realize how silly they look petitioning for him to be deported over his political views."

    Yep. According to the founders, 'rights' (I'm going for 'freedoms') are unalienable, and certainly not limited to US citizens.
    He deserves all sorts of insults, name calling, and personal snubs, but for the government to take action as a result of ho comments means A-1 doesn't much matter.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    The people who are signing that petition are morons. They're clearly confusing their (correct) belief that CNN should fire Piers Morgan with their (incorrect) belief that the US should deport Piers Morgan.

  • SIV||

    A little hot tar and feathers and Piers would probably "self deport". If he worked for the government the good folks at Popehat would be busy defending Mr Morgan from any sanction other than "critical speech". This is yet another reason why government, and cosmotarians, totally suck.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Wait...WHAT?!

  • Copernicus||

    Hyperion| 12.24.12 @ 7:50PM |#

    "54,000 sigs to deport Limeytard Piers Morgan, lol"

    How unlibertarian of you.

    He's an individual working for a private company and you feel he "should keep his Limey mealy mouth the fuck shut"? Is that how you interpret the 1st ammendmant?

    Further: " I'm for kicking the shit out of him and putting him on a raft afloat on the sea."

    No comment needed.

    As much as I loathe Morgan's proclamations, he has not yet reached your peaktard.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The whole thing is a conspiracy by the CDC and WHO to cover up the existence of necroanimating retroviruses.

  • Sevo||

    ..."to cover up the existence of necroanimating retroviruses."

    Yeah, I'd want to keep the guests away from those, too.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    Dr. Jenner says we're all already infected.

  • Ted S.||

    Just because Jenner sleeps with the Kardashians doesn't mean the rest of us are infected too.

  • ||

    Infected? More like infested...

  • Sevo||

    ..."credulously climbed aboard the "bath salts" ban wagon (which ended in a federal law prohibiting two common "bath salt" ingredients, enacted the same day we learned that the drugs played no role in Eugene's horrible crime)"

    But they DID SOMETHING! Something stupid, no doubt, as is typical when congress DOES SOMETHING!

  • Ted S.||

    But they DID SOMETHING!

    Sure enough, Yes, Minister discussed this 30 years ago.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The greatest political television show in history. Serious contender for greatest sitcom in history.

    Suck it, Friends.

  • Sevo||

    "30 years ago."
    That makes me sad. 30 years of exposure to the obvious, and we still have Team Blue (and Team Red also) pulling for the same tired shit.
    More importantly, we have voters VOTING for the same tired shit.
    But as an optimist, I can only wish the not-statists and the non-racists here a Happy Holiday. May that mythical Macy's delivery guy bring what you and yours wish. And eat all the dam cookies; he's as mythical as the sky-daddy, and someone should get those things!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Lord at War||

    Who the fuck is "Martha May"? I was sure it was Cindy Lou Who!

  • ||

    Too young. She'll have to wait for the little grinchlet.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Yeah, man. I'm not going to get arrested for posting whophilia!

  • TheSpiteHouse||

    That link could make SugarFree throw up.

  • ||

    Pete Townsend already has you beaten on that one, HM.-))))

  • Ted S.||

    Who the fuck is "Martha May"?

    Wake up, Martha, I think I've got something to say to you.
    It's late September and I really should be back at school....

  • JeremyR||

    Still better than 50 Shades of Grey

  • Ted S.||

    You actually read 50 Shades of Grey?

  • ||

    Ted, HM left you a perfectly good The Who joke, and you left it!

    You sicken me.

  • sloopyinca||

    Imma ruin Christmas for you:

    Sorry, HM but you can't possibly ruin Christmas for me. You see, the hospital just called and told us based on the feeding schedule Baby Reason is now keeping that she'll be able to make the trip home tomorrow. I mean, we weren't even sure our baby was going to be able to breathe on her own a month ago (before she was born), and we were told to probably expect her to stay a couple of months, but we're going to get to take her home 23 days after she was born. and on Christmas Day to top it all off.

    I know it sounds cliche, but this truly is a Christmas miracle for Kara and I. Thank you all for your well-wishes, thoughts and prayers. It's meant so much to us. I'll send a picture tomorrow when we have her home, but in the meantime, I'm gonna sit here and have a good, happy cry.

  • Sevo||

    You'll get no prayers from me, but you'll get really good wishes and congrats that things have turned out better than hoped.
    Happy Holidays!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Mazel Tov!

    I wish lil' Reason the best of health and that she may only grow stronger as the days pass.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Merry Christmas, my friend! I'm glad to hear the news.

  • SIV||

    Wonderful news!

  • JeremyR||

    Great to hear

  • Hyperion||

    Congrats, sloop. Just make sure you start that Libertarian indoctrination right away, you know there can never be enough of us...

  • Ted S.||

    You mean there's going to be a female libertarian?!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    All hail the Nerevarine!

  • ||

    +1 Almalexia

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Great news Sloop

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Beautiful, man. Best Christmas present ever.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Wonderful news! Congrats to you and Banjos (and Baby Reason(, and Merry Christmas indeed!

  • MJGreen||

    That's awesome, and great timing to boot. Congrats.

  • mr simple||

    Congratulations! I hope everything continues to go well for you and merry Christmas.

  • ||

    Morning Sloopy and Banjos! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

    PREKRAST'NO!

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    Super news.

    ... Hobbit

  • Robert||

    I wish her all the best and hope you were just joking about her name.

  • ||

  • AuH2O||

    Sorry... but you can't possibly ruin Christmas for me

    Challenge accepted.

    Time to look up most lopsided Ohio State defeats!

    But, seriously, awesome to hear!

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Merry Christmas indeed!

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Happy Christmas to all!

  • Hyperion||

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Netflix is down and I'm getting grumpy.

  • Ted S.||

    Try masturbation.

  • ||

    Oh so it wasn't just us

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

  • SIV||

    So that is why I finally have a decent connection through my ATT DSL. I guess with netflix down they had to let some "low priority" data through the tubes.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Mike Tomlin ate whose face now?

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Omar Epps.

  • TheSpiteHouse||

    So Mike Tomlin chewed off Omar Epps' face and wore it as a mask to escape confinement?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's Jim Pembry now talk to him dammit!

  • American Is Back||

    Question to Cosmos: does the fact that a majority of American children, even a majority of white children, will grow up in households without married parents? Why do you think capitalism is sustainable under this model?

  • Redmanfms||

    does the fact that a majority of American children, even a majority of white children, will grow up in households without married parents?

    Where is the question?

    Why do you think capitalism is sustainable under this model?

    I fail to see what it is about single parenthood that makes capitalism unsustainable.

    But:

    We do need urchins for our monocle and top hat factories.

  • np||

    man, other folks were joking, but you're really trying to ruin Christmas aren't you?

  • Sevo||

    np| 12.25.12 @ 12:12AM |#
    "man, other folks were joking, but you're really trying to ruin Christmas aren't you?"

    Pretty sure that the bigot thinks s/he;s bringing cheer. To other ignoramuses.
    Happy holidays to you!

  • Sevo||

    American Is Back| 12.24.12 @ 11:18PM |#
    "Question to Cosmos: does the fact that a majority of American children, even a majority of white children, will grow up in households without married parents? Why do you think capitalism is sustainable under this model?"

    Question to our resident racist: Can you put that supposed question into English language sentences so we can all laugh at your stupidity

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    I'll answer for it: "No".

    The End.

    Marry Christmas, Reason! Even teh racist Americano.

  • Sevo||

    You are more generous than am I; happy holidays to you and yours,

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Why do you think capitalism is sustainable under this model?

    Porn fuels the engine of the online economy. Fresh, new, emotionally damaged girls have come from somewhere.

    Why do you hate America, porn, and free enterprise, Racist Ray?

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Wish you all a veselé Vánoce!

  • ||

    Morning, Archduchy. Vesjologo c Rozhdestvom v Kanade tebe!

  • ||

    Děkujeme, a uplně spatky.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    You know what needs to die in 2013? the phrase "1st world problems".

    That is all.

  • ||

    Wanting to kill off stupid phrases is a 1st world problem.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Like it or not, it's the only adequate description for Clark Griswold's flipping out over his boss not giving him the Christmas bonus he was going to spend on a new pool.

  • ||

    I don't think America has much longer to worry about being in the 1st world.

  • AuH2O||

    Also its cousin, "white people problems"

  • Ted S.||

    I vote for "first responders" as the phrase that needs to die.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I vote the phrase "cautiously optimistic" be contracted to cautiomistic, or be stricken from the vocabulary entirely.

    Merry Christmas, Reasonoids!!

  • John Galt||

    Now that we know Rudy Eugene was whacked out on Jenkem when he ate Poppo's face what exactly is society supposed to do about it? If the kids want to huff their fermenting feces they're going to find a way.

    Huffing poopoo and eating Poppo.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    You just couldn't help yourself, huh?

    Merry Christmas!!

  • waaminn||

    Dude clearly went off the deep end!

    www.Anon-is.tk

  • waaminn||

    Dude clearly went off the deep end!

    www.Anon-is.tk

  • attractions guide||

    Bath salts are benifit for our health.

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