Bath Salts, Zombie Crime, and Deadly Drug Policy

Posted on June 12, 2012 by


By now, anyone who watches television, reads a newspaper, or even just follows internet memes has heard about the recent attack on a homeless man in Miami. But, just in case you were sheltering in your living-dead apocalypse bunker, let me recap: a man high on “bath salts” attacked a homeless man. The attacker, naked, actually chewed on the victim’s face and continued to do so until shot dead by police.

The incident, in combination with unrelated homicides involving cannibalism, inspired countless zombie references, jokes, and puns in poor taste.

The real story is not the rise of the long-anticipated zombie, but rather the drug that led to the attack.

Our drug laws are written to exclude very specific substances. So what does the entrepreneurial drug manufacturer do to stay in business and out of prison? Why, make a slight chemical alteration to an existing drug. With a small alteration, a substance that is essentially the same as an illicit drug, is now legally safe. It’s not that the new drug is legal, but rather that it has not yet been criminalized.

And that’s exactly what is happening with the bath salts. Minor chemical changes to drugs yield not-yet-illegal substances which can be sold openly.

Our national drug policies are ill-equipped to handle such outbreaks of new designer drugs because we are stuck in a moral stone age. Contemporary drug policy is about criminalizing two things: fun, and socially marginalized populations.

What do I mean by this?

Well, criminalizing fun happens because of our Puritan roots. Getting high exists in some vague category with dancing, swearing, and unsupervised single women taking long walks with men.

Criminalizing socially marginalized populations is all about the status of a the group predominantly associated with a drug. Alcohol? Conjure up an image of a wealthy senator buying his favorite Bordeaux, and you’ll realize why we’ll never (again) try to get rid of booze. Now think about someone toking up on a doobie. Hippie? Minority? Lower income?


This is the thinking that dominates our drug policies. It’s not scientific, empirical, or even rational. It’s an endeavor in state-sponsored moralism and social control. It’s not about harm reduction.

Harm reduction policy is the only way to combat this problem of designer drugs. We’re just not there yet, but I hope we keep moving in the right direction. Before someone else tweaks the chemical structure of a drug just enough to make users want to sink their teeth into the victim’s neck. Or grow hair under the full moon.


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Posted in: Drugs, In the News