Bath Salts

The Legend of Zombie Drugs Will Not Die

Journalists continue to claim that the Causeway Cannibal was under the influence of synthetic cathinones.



In a story about the synthetic cathinone alpha-PVP (a.k.a. flakka), The Kansas City Star cites "one highly publicized Florida case" in which "a man reportedly high on flakka gnawed on and disfigured another man's face before he was shot to death by police." The Star, which made the same claim in another story about flakka two years ago, is referring to Rudy Eugene, a.k.a. the Miami Zombie and the Causeway Cannibal, whose attack the police and the press initially blamed on "bath salts," a blanket term for synthetic cathinones. Toxicological results released in June 2012 showed that Eugene was not in fact under the influence of any such drug. More than five years later, the Star apparently has not gotten the news.

Nor has The Sun, which last year listed Eugene's horrifying assault on Ronald Poppo as one of "the most depraved cannibal attacks in recent history," saying Eugene "was believed to be high on bath salt drugs." That story also mentioned an August 2016 case in which a Florida college student named Austin Harrouff stabbed a couple to death and was found gnawing on the man's face. Police blamed the crime on flakka. "We know in our business that people on flakka or bath salts will do this type of behavior where they attack their victim and do the biting and remove pieces of flesh in the biting," said Martin County Sheriff William Snyder.

Guess what? A few months later, toxicological tests showed that what Snyder knew was not so. CBS News reported that finding under the headline "Surprising Drug Test Results in Fla. Face-Biting Attack Case." It was surprising, of course, because everyone knows that drugs like flakka make you bite people's faces off, no matter how many times such claims are disproven.

Since CBS News has acknowledged that Harrouff was not under the influence of flakka, you might assume that from now on it will refrain from claiming he was. That would not be a safe assumption. In 2012 CBS News reported that Eugene had tested negative for cathinones. But that did not stop it from reporting three years later, in a story about flakka, that "bath salts" were "found to be behind a number of alarming incidents," including the assault in which Eugene "allegedly chewed another man's face while high on bath salts." That mistake remains uncorrected. As far as CBS News is concerned, Eugene's crime, which was caught on camera and witnessed by the police officer who shot him to death, is only alleged, while the complicity of synthetic cathinones he did not consume is clearly established.

Last year NYU public health researcher Joseph Palamar cited the Eugene and Harrouff cases in an essay debunking the enduring myth of drug-induced cannibalism. He noted that his own research had found that people buying "molly," which is supposed to be MDMA, often get synthetic cathinones instead. "These people didn't turn into cannibals or zombies," he noted.

Given that almost no one who consumes cathinones behaves the way Eugene and Harrouff did, and given that Eugene and Harroff themselves were not under the influence of such drugs, it should be pretty clear by now that cathinones do not cause cannibalism. Yet the legend of zombie drugs shambles on with the help of panic-promoting journalists who know a good story when they see one and do not much care whether it's true.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the Kansas City Star link.]