Bath salts, recreational designer drugs said to give people "unnatural strength" and intense hallucinations, may have been responsible for the horrifying actions of the "Miami Zombie" who gnawed off another man's face in a gruesome crime over Memorial weekend.
Police said the attacker, Rudy Eugene, 31, exhibited "insane" behavior that was similar to other violent incidences that had been linked to bath salts.
Eugene had been gunned down by police Saturday afternoon after horrified witnesses found him naked, straddling and chewing away at a homeless man's face.
Eugene, described by his mother as a church-going, bible-reading Christian, had reportedly consumed 75 percent to 80 percent of Ronald Poppo's face, eating off the 65-year-old's mouth, nose and forehead and gouging out one of Poppo's eyes.
Eugene's mother, Ruth Charles, told the Miami Herald, that she was she's devastated by her son's inexplicable actions and that the media have her son all wrong.
Charles criticized the police for killing the police instead of finding other means to subdue him. She said that her son faithfully read the bible and accompanied her to church.
“If someone was lost or didn’t know God, he would tell them about him,’’ she said. “He was a believer of God.”
“Something happened out of the ordinary that day. I don’t want him to be labeled the Miami Zombie,” she said. “He was a person. I don’t want him to go down like that.”
“Everybody says that he was a zombie, but I know he’s not a zombie; he’s my son,” she said.
She said the person who ate Poppo's face was not the son she knew.
“I don’t know what they injected in him to turn him into the person who did what he did,” she told the paper.
Bath salts, also known by street names like “Ivory Wave,” “Blue Silk,” “Cloud Nine,” and “Star Dust”, made headlines last year after the drugs caused a flood of emergency visits, thousands of calls to poison center and several deaths.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported in January that it received 6,072 calls related to bath salts in 2011, an explosion in the number of cases compared to 300 in 2010.
The man-made, synthetic stimulant drug is made from amphetamine-like chemicals that produce a unique combination of effects on the brain.
“If you take the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and Ecstasy and put them together, that’s what we’re seeing sometimes,” Mark Ryan, the director of the Louisiana Poison Center, told the New York Times.
The drug comes in a powdery form and can be inhaled, swallowed or injected, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health.
Health professionals say that users experience a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. Not only to people often experience super-human strength after taking the stimulant, they often experience, severe hallucinations, long-lasting euphoria or paranoia and can become violent and suicidal.
The drugs can also cause a variety of side effects including vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, inability to speak, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and sometimes even death.
Beside the recent zombie cannibal attack, bath salts have been linked to many other violent and shocking crimes and deaths.
Last year an Indiana man had climbed a flagpole on the side of the road and jumped into traffic, according to the New York Daily News.
Another man in Pennsylvania had went into a monastery and stabbed a priest, and a woman in West Virginia tore herself 'to pieces' because she thought something was underneath her skin, according to the New York Times.
Last year the Mesa Police Department in Arizona said that bath salts seemed to be giving criminals "unusual strength," particularly when they are confronted by cops, the Phoenix New Times reported.
Arizona police reported last September it took eight cops to subdue an unidentified burglary suspect even after he was tasered by police, and was later identified as having been under the influence of bath salts, according to the Phoenix New Times.
The Daily Beast reported that nudity was also a common occurrence observed in users because the drug causes body temperature to shoot up so fast that people feel like they're burning up and take off their clothes.
Up until last October when the Drug Enforcement Agency banned three chemicals used to make the synthetic drugs mephedrone, MDPV and methoyn, their sales had gradually rose since they were introduced in 2009 and skyrocketed in 2011. They were often sold legally online or in convenience stores as bath salts or "plant food" or "insect repellant" for $25 to $50 for a 50-milligram packet.
The DEA has classified bath salts as a schedule 1 drug, labeling it as highly addictive and illegal, and has placed a ban on it for a year until the agency decides whether it should be made permanently illegal.
While several states have issued a ban on the man-made drugs, no federal ban exists.
Experts say that banning synthetic drugs may be ineffective because the chemical composition of these designer drugs can be tweaked slightly and then classified into a new kind of drug, making it easy to skirt around the law.
"Manufacturers turn these things around so quickly. One week you'll have a product with compound X, the next week it's compound Y," said forensic toxicologist Kevin Shanks of AIT Laboratories, an Indiana-based chemical testing company, according to Gizmodo.
"It's fascinating how fast it can occur, and it's fascinating to see the minute changes in chemical structure they'll come up with. It's similar, but it's different," Shanks added.