The Thurston County Coroner’s Office is looking into whether a Spanaway soldier or his wife had taken a highly potent new designer drug called “bath salts” before their deaths earlier this month.
Coroner Gary Warnock has asked the state toxicology lab to test the blood of Army Sgt. David Stewart and his wife, Kristy Sampels, for the product after packets of the drug were found in their home, car and on him.
The drug known as bath salts is not the household product sold to enhance a soak in the tub. It is snorted and produces a high similar to cocaine and methamphetamine and can lead to hallucinations, among other things.
“It’s a very powerful and potent stimulant,” said Donn Moyer, spokesman for the state Department of Health. “It’s a growing phenomenon.”
Thurston County investigators are looking into whether the drug was a factor in the deaths of Stewart, Sampels and their 5-year-old son, Jordan Stewart. Warnock asked for special tests to see whether Stewart or Sampels had used the drug.
David Stewart, 38, fatally shot Sampels, also 38, on April 5 during a police pursuit that started when he sped past a Washington State Patrol trooper on Interstate 5. The chase ended in Tumwater when Stewart crashed his car and then killed himself.
Later that day, Pierce County sheriff’s deputies found the body of the couple’s son in a bedroom of their home. He had a plastic bag over his head and bruises on his body.
Because of growing concern among health officials, the state Board of Pharmacy passed an emergency ban on the drug Friday after learning of increases in the number of people who have used “bath salts” and sought help.
The state Poison Control Center has received 39 phone calls regarding use of the drug so far this year. That’s a three-fold increase over all of 2010. Half of the calls came from emergency rooms.
The board announced the drug ban Wednesday. It classifies “bath salts” as a Schedule I controlled substance and makes it illegal to make, sell, deliver or possess the drug.
It is sold in small packets or jars under the names Ivory Wave, Red Dove and Zoom.
It can be found online and in convenience stores, smoke shops and businesses that sell drug paraphernalia, Moyer said.
The drug contains substituted cathinones, a stimulant that in addition to causing hallucinations can lead to elevated heart rate, soaring blood pressure and strong cravings, Moyer said.
It also can cause extreme paranoia, agitation and suicidal thoughts.
“It can cause people to have bad judgment,” he said. “This is a bad, bad product.”
And it has nothing to do with taking a bath.
“It’s not clear to me that it has a legitimate use,” Moyer said.
The product is marked “not for human consumption,” but that’s what some people are using it for. Earlier this year, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration recently labeled it a drug of concern.
The pharmacy board voted unanimously to craft emergency rules to ban “bath salts” April 7.
The rules were filed Friday and took effect immediately. Washington follows Idaho and Oregon in implementing such bans.
The current prohibition is in effect for 120 days, though the pharmacy board is moving toward a permanent ban, which would require public hearings first, Moyer said.
“Hopefully, the stores will follow the rules and get rid of it,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be a deterrent effect.”
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268 stacey.mulick@ thenewstribune.com