Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa man is first reported death in Florida from ingesting 'bath salt' drug

TAMPA — A 23-year-old Tampa man died from ingesting a drug sold as "bath salts," the first such fatality reported in Florida, officials said Thursday.

Jairious McGhee died April 3 from intoxication of methylone, the main compound in the now-banned "bath salt" found in his stomach, according to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office.

Tampa police initially believed McGhee died of viral meningitis because of symptoms he displayed after an altercation with a police officer, authorities said.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law Tuesday banning the white powder marketed as bath salts but used as an alternative for drugs like cocaine and LSD.

The bill was supported by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who in January issued an emergency rule making it a third-degree felony to possess or distribute drugs sold as bath salts.

The Florida Poison Information Center documented 113 cases involving so-called bath salts since becoming aware of the use in August, said Cynthia Lewis-Younger, medical director for the center in Tampa.

The number of calls dropped by about half after Bondi issued the emergency rule. But this case marks the first death in the state caused by the outlawed substance, she said.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has received 2,507 calls about exposure to the drug since it began gathering reports last year.

But Lewis-Younger said many more incidents do not get reported. The state center was alerted of deaths from the drug in Europe and other states before it showed up here.

People on the drug can experience many symptoms, including hallucinations, anxiety, violent behavior and seizures. The symptoms can last a few hours or up to a few days. Some users wound up in psychiatric wards and others have harmed themselves or others, Lewis-Younger said.

The day before McGhee died, police said, a motorist alerted a police officer about a man walking in and out of traffic at Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard and banging on cars. McGhee was yelling, cursing and "acting erratically," according to an autopsy report.

Officer Greg Preyer approached McGhee, who said he wanted to fight and lunged at him. Preyer struck McGhee with a Taser, but medical examiner spokesman Dick Bailey said the autopsy found it bounced off McGhee's clothes.

McGhee was handcuffed and taken into custody under the Baker Act, which allows for observation of people considered a danger to themselves or others. He was transported to Tampa General Hospital.

McGhee died at the hospital 28 hours later as his brain swelled from a lack of oxygen and his body temperature soared to nearly 106 degrees, shutting down his kidneys and other organs. He bit his tongue, possibly because of an acute seizure.

"Essentially, he's just deteriorating very quickly," said Julia Pearson, a toxicologist with the medical examiner's office.

Believing he had meningitis, the police officers who came in contact with McGhee took an antibiotic as a precaution.

McGhee's mother, Melody Thompson, said in April that she didn't accept the police account that her son was acting erratically in the intersection.

"I know my son's personality," she told the St. Petersburg Times. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.

It's not clear how much of the drug McGhee ingested or whether he snorted or swallowed it. The drug is a powerful stimulant that is very new to medical examiners and other officials. Before this case, Pearson did not have a method developed for identifying it.

The "bath salts" are synthetic drugs manufactured as an alternative to cocaine or heroin not to be confused with what someone can buy in a grocery store, said Jennifer Davis, a spokeswoman for the Florida Attorney General's Office. They were marketed as "bath salts" as a way to sell drugs in convenience stores before they were outlawed here.

Legitimate bath salts are not affected by the new law.

But while the so-called bath salts are illegal in Florida and some other states, they can still be found and purchased online.

"As long as people are going to want to use drugs," Lewis-Younger said, "they're going to find a way to do it."

Soak or snort?

Packets of white powder sold as bath salts in head shops and convenience stores until they were banned are different from bath salts sold legally at grocery stores and other retailers. The banned substances were marketed under names like Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky and Purple Rain and typically sold for about $35 in 500 milligram packets.

Tampa man is first reported death in Florida from ingesting 'bath salt' drug 06/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011 9:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion

    Markets

    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  2. Minors also a training ground for umpires with big-league dreams

    The Heater

    Umpire Tom Fornarola, 23, left, and Taylor Payne, 24, facing, talk before the start of the Gulf Coast League game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla. on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.
  3. In Florida, nation's only lightning center closes after DARPA cuts funding (w/video)

    Environment

    University of Florida professor Martin Uman usually spends much of this summer at an old Army base about an hour northeast of Gainesville, shooting rockets at thunderclouds, then measuring the bright flashes of lightning that followed.

    Rocket-and-wire triggered lightning at the University of Florida's International Center for Lightning Research and Testing, which recently lost federal funding. A rocket trailing a grounded wire is launched toward an active thunderstorm at the ICLRT. One launch is from a tower, one from ground. When the wire is about as high as the Empire State Building, lightning is induced to strike the top of the wire, much as it strikes tall objects like the ESB. Interestingly, the cloud charge source is about 3 miles high, so a 300 yard-long wire can cause a 3 mile or more long lightning.  After that, there are several normal tortuous strokes ( downward leaders from the cloud charge/upward return strokes) which can be seen as the wind blows the individual strokes to the right. The time between strokes is about 50 thousands of a second. Between some strokes, continuing current can be seen. Continuing current is what generally starts forest fires. [Photo by Dr. Dustin Hill]
  4. Editorial: Reasonable clarity on gambling in Florida

    Editorials

    Gambling expansion strategies — and misfires — are nearly an annual ritual in Florida. There were the eight counties that voted to allow slot machines but were blocked by the Florida Supreme Court. There was the governor's $3 billion deal with the Seminole Tribe in 2015 that was never approved by the …

    Gov. Rick Scott agreed to a much simpler deal with the Seminole Tribe that embraces the status quo instead of expansion. And that’s a good thing.
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]