You've heard the news reports of drugs turning people into flesh-eating "zombies." But could this happen in Woburn?
Last month, the nation was horrified by reports that 31-year-old Rudy Eugene of North Miami Beach had stripped his clothing, attacked a homeless man and began gnawing on the man's face. Police shot and killed Eugene when officers ordered him to stop and the Florida man reportedly growled at officers, with pieces of flesh in his mouth, and continued eating the homeless man's face.
What turned Rudy Eugene into a naked flesh-eater is believed to be a drug called "bath salts," according to The Huffington Post. Bath salts are a mixture of chemicals that cause users to experience hallucinations, delusions, psychotic behavior and overheating of the body (causing many to strip off their clothes).
Although the drug is banned in many states, it has made an appearance in the New England area.
"Bath Salts are in the northeast, but are not really heard much of around the Woburn area," said an undercover detective with the Southeast Middlesex Regional Drug Task Force and the Woburn Police Department.
"Young people are so willing to try these drugs, often not illegal on the state level," continued the detective. "Federal agencies are always working to keep up with chemicals that are being used, but it takes months to get through legislation and then [users] are on to new chemicals."
Marilyn Belmonte of the Burlington Drug & Alcohol Task Force explained that bath salts are a designer drug meant to imitate the effects of more common, but illegal, substances. She said designer drugs become popular suddenly because they are not illegal until legislation is passed and are sold in stores. The bath salts drug, she said, cannot be used as actual bath salts, but are instead a mixture of chemicals that have not been made illegal but give users a high.
"If I'm a chemist and can look at chemical the structure of methamphetamine, for example, and just change it enough to be different but have similar effects, then I can produce this and when I sell it," she said. "If I get caught and it gets sent to state police laboratory, it will come up as unknown chemical, and therefor not illegal. This is how designer drugs work."
Sgt. Timothy McDonough of the Burlington Police Department Drug Force said he has heard of a couple incidents of bath salts in the area but said they haven't been a top problem. He said heroin use is a larger problem in Burlington and surrounding towns. He said heroin has been found on people of all ages, including high school students, and socioeconomic groups.
McDonough said that in the past year or so there have been at least two heroin-related deaths in Burlington.
McDonough explained that people often start with pain-killers such as Percocet (acetaminophen and oxycodone), either because they are legitimately prescribe them or they try them from a friend or at a gathering. However, he explained, Percocet pills cost roughly $80 a piece on the street and heroin is much cheaper but gives users similar effects.
"People get on Percocets because of an injury or from friends, then go to heroin because it is much cheaper," he said. "A lot of people you wouldn't expect now have an issue with heroin, purely because of price."
McDonough said to help people should keep open communication with their children and loved-ones and stay up on what they are doing. He said there are programs, including the HEAT program out of the Woburn District Court, that effectively help those with dependency problems.
"There are great programs that can get people the help they need," he said.
Reducing drug use would also reduce crime, McDonough said. He said many motor-vehicle break-ins and other thefts are performed by people looking for drug money.
"A lot of thefts are people trying to get money for drugs, it's a revolving circle,
he said. "We will have less crime if we can stop some of the drug issues in the area."
Finally, Belmonte said that the news often focuses on drugs when they are part of a headline-grabbing story but that the focus of the community, parents and police should also stay focused on the basics; alcohol and marijuana use. She said more people die each year from alcohol than all drugs put together.
"Statistics shows that alcohol kills more people than all other drugs combined," she said. "Then marijuana is a next big problem everywhere you go and Burlington is no different. Designer drugs come and go but those two are always a problem."