HOLLIDAYSBURG - The synthetic drug Blizzard, also known as bath salts, has become such a big problem in Blair County over such a short period of time that more than 60 representatives from local agencies met Monday to learn how to recognize and treat its victims.
Dr. Joseph L. Antonowicz, medical director for Altoona Regional Center for Behavioral Health Services, said his department became aware of Blizzard just four months ago when a couple was taken to the crisis center "completely out of their minds," as he put it.
The couple said they obtained the bath salts locally and then went on a bender, not having slept for days. By the time they were taken to the crisis center, they were experiencing severe mental health problems, holed up in a bedroom fearful they were under attack.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
More than 60 people attended a seminar Monday on the growing problem from use of bath salts.
Dr. Joseph Antonowicz outlines what bath salts are, how they affect the body and how to deal with users during a seminar Monday.
"What is this thing?" was the question the people at the Behavioral Health Center were asking, Antonowicz told the agency representatives who gathered at the First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg.
He explained Blizzard is a synthetic drug made with the compound methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV.
In Blair County, it is sold with the warning "not for human consumption," and Antonowicz said people are using it as a stimulant to gain a cocaine-like or methamphetamine-like high.
Blizzard or bath salts
What: A synthetic drug that contains the chemical compound
methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV.
Names the drug is sold under: Blizzard, Bliss, Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave, Red Dove, Vanilla Sky and White Lightning, among others.
Information from Dr. Joseph L. Antonowicz
In addition to the name Blizzard, it is also sold under such names as Ivory Wave, Cloud Nine, Bliss, Vanilla Sky, Red Dove and White Lightning.
He said recent statistics he compiled showed there were four deaths locally attributed to the drug this year, but during Monday's session he upped the number to six.
Ashley Dively, the 25-year-old Tyrone woman whose body was found early Saturday near railroad tracks, was another possible victim, Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross said.
Initially the drug causes euphoria and people feel energetic, "smarter and prettier," Antonowicz said.
With continued use, individuals experience irritability, panic attacks, suspiciousness and other symptoms.
"As many as half of chronic users will experience delusions and hallucinations like paranoid schizophrenia," he said.
He said treatment for withdrawal may include rest and food. If the individual is suicidal, the use of an antidepressant or some drug that will enable the individual to sleep will be needed.
The Blair County Drug and Alcohol Program Inc., led by Executive Director Judy Rosser, sponsored Monday's meeting to train agencies what they are dealing with when confronted with individuals using Blizzard.
She believes that the use of Blizzard and similar drugs will continue to be a problem in the future.
Patty Karn, a prevention specialist with Blair County Drug and Alcohol, said the agency was first made aware of Blizzard last fall when Nason Hospital called about three individuals in the emergency room who were under the influence of it.
In a recent newsletter published by Blair Countians for Drug Free Communities, the agency issued a warning about the bath salts.
"Many police and hospital officials are alarmed at the increasing amount of individuals using and overdosing on the substance. This highly addictive stimulant can cause hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, central nervous stimulations and a false state of alertness," the warning stated.
Renee Bambocci of the agency said Blizzard users experiencing problems are being treated at the mental health crisis center and Cove Forge in Williamsburg.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray can be reached at 946-7468.