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Lake Elsinore Mom: 'Bath Salts Killed My Son'

In early November 2010, Gregory Thomas’s lifeless body was found hanging off a quiet bridge in Murrieta. His mother says her son's suicide was caused by his addiction to bath salts.

Lake Elsinore resident Sharon Guffey knew something was really wrong with her son, but she couldn't know he would commit suicide by hanging himself from a Murrieta bridge.

In early November 2010, Gregory Thomas’s lifeless body was found hanging off a quiet bridge on Adams Avenue, near the western edge of Murrieta’s industrial area.

The 34-year-old was estranged from his wife and their two little girls. His death was ruled a suicide, caused by many months of using a stimulant that's available at local stores, his mother said.

“My son committed suicide after purchasing bath salts from our local smoke shop,” Guffey said. “I went to the police department and there is nothing they can do about it.”

"Bath salts" are synthetic stimulants that are sometimes also sold under the guise of “plant food.” They often come from European manufacturers and are marketed under various names such as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “Bliss,” according to Special Agent Sarah Pullen of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The “high” that bath salt users get is said to mimic that of cocaine, LSD, Ecstasy, and/or methamphetamine, Pullen explained. Snorting, shooting, smoking and ingesting are the ways users get high on bath salts. Guffey said her son snorted.

For around $25, anyone over 18 years of age  -- 21 in some stores -- can purchase about a gram of the beige-colored powder from retailers that sell it. What’s actually in these products, however, is pretty much a mystery.

On Oct. 21, 2011, the DEA exercised its emergency scheduling authority to control the three synthetic stimulants most commonly found in bath salts: Mephedrone, Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), and Methylone.

“If you’re caught selling a product that contains any one of these, you are violating the law,” Pullen explained.

To avoid legal trouble, however, manufacturers have become “very clever,” Pullen said.

“They are using other stimulants in their products and, unless a chemist tests them, it’s unknown what’s really in them,” she said. “It’s very difficult to keep up with all the products out there.”

A trip to two local smoke shops revealed that bath salts are readily available in town, and they are “selling like hot cakes,” said one Lake Elsinore store clerk.

“Bath salts became very popular very quickly. Even convenience stores are selling them," Pullen said

The biggest reason for the DEA's emergency action is the "violent behavior" often seen in users, Pullen explained.

“Someone high on bath salts is a threat to public safety,” she said.

Guffey can attest to that. Before her son died, his stepfather took him to urgent care at Inland Valley Medical Center. Shortly after Thomas arrived, there was pandemonium and the hospital went into lockdown, she said.

The effect of bath salts on her son was devastating. They destroyed his marriage, cost him his job, and ultimately his life, Guffey said.

“He was hearing voices and was paranoid when he was on them. They literally ate his brain away,” she said. “He was slowly poisoning himself. He didn’t sleep, he didn’t eat. His eyes looked different and his skin color changed.”

After his brief stay at Inland Valley Medical Center, Thomas was transferred to Better Tomorrow, a residential drug rehab center in Murrieta. Once there, he told his mother that he wanted to kill himself – the voices in his head and his wrecked life had become unbearable. True to his word, he slipped out of Better Tomorrow on a Saturday night, according to his mother, and his body was found just days later, less than a mile from the treatment center. Calls to Better Tomorrow were not returned.

“I tried to get him off it [the bath salts], but he was addicted,” Guffey said. “I know he’s in a better place now.”

But Guffey's tragic experience may not mean much to bath salts manufacturers who continue to profit -- legally -- off their products.

Sgt. Stephen Mike of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department works narcotics for all of Southwest Riverside and said bath salts are sold locally, but law enforcement has no authority unless someone is selling products that contain the banned stimulants.

The sergeant said he was not familiar with the Thomas case (the suicide occurred within Murrieta Police Department's jurisdiction), and added that he has not received complaints about bath salts locally.

At the two stores Patch visited, one of the products being marketed was clearly labeled “Does Not Contain Mephedrone, MDPV or Methylone.” The other products were labeled with print too small to read.

“A lot of manufacturers have labeled their products to say that they don’t contain the banned stimulants,” Pullen explained. “But again, unless they are tested, no one knows for certain.”

Even if they are tested, the DEA’s emergency action expires this October.

“The DEA can ask for a six-month extension, but after that there needs to be legislative action, otherwise the three substances will be removed from the Schedule I list,” Pullen said.

Schedule I is the federal government’s most restrictive drug category under the Controlled Substances Act.

“Schedule I status is reserved for those substances with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted use for treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision,” according to the DEA. All Schedule I drugs are illegal under federal law.

Guffey said she is telling her story now because she wants to see bath salts – in all their forms – made illegal.

“I don’t want to see anymore kids die from this.”

Wizard Without Remorse January 31, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Vince, intellectually I agree with you. However, it was not the young man that was complaining about these drugs being out there, it was his mother. I am sure that she was comforted by your words. You might want to look into some anger management classes as it is clear you have some issues of your own to deal with.
Paula Thomas January 31, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Vince, my sister Guffey lost her son to this stuff. Our whole family lost a member of our family when Greg took his life from using this crap. This young man has a very large family that loved him and misses him very much. My sister lost a child you have no idea what it is like for her. Every day my sister thinks about her child. I think about my nephew his cousins that were his age and very close to him think about Greg and miss him. I have to agree with Charles Avery you need some anger managerment classes.
Paula Thomas January 31, 2012 at 06:23 AM
No they are not they are sold in smoke shoppes and other local shops
J Carabine January 31, 2012 at 07:06 AM
ditto..
J Carabine January 31, 2012 at 07:08 AM
I am very sorry for your loss, I know this pain myself. People are ignorant and thoughtless in their comments. Ignore them, please. Feel free to contact me anytime. and know that your family is in my prayers.
Roberto January 31, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Sorry for the loss of her Son. Ignore the crazies.
Martha L. Bridges January 31, 2012 at 03:03 PM
A family's grief should not be harshly attacked just to make a point about personal responsibility even if that point is truly valid. Their loss is not lessened by such unkind remarks. Few people in our society haven't suffered a personal loss because of drug or substance abuse. However, it is true that there are many substances both legally and illegally sold over-the-counter or prescribed by physicians that when abused can and do harm or kill people. Each of us is exposed to that possibility every day. It is the individual's choice to use them properly or abuse them with potentially drastic results including terrible harm or even death. While the product which is the subject of this article should probably be illegal, where do you draw the line with regard to government responsibility and control? Is it really our government's proper role to control all these substances? I'm all in favor of the requirement for warning labels, but it is the individual's decision and responsibility to read and follow them. The last time I caught a cold, I had to sign a wrtten record for a single box of decongestive medication and learned that new government regulations put a tight cap on how much of it any individual could buy...all because some irresponsible jerks use it to cook up a batch of meth. Our society must return to teaching and using personal responsibility as a fundamental protection against a vast number of products which are bad only when they are misused or abused.
Anon January 31, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Amen!
Vince January 31, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Yup...I might just be in need of Anger Management---IF enough Touchy Feely Sorts jump in on this, you betcha! I hate to admit it, but what I probably truly need is Sensitivity Training, since I have become HIGHLY insensitive when it comes to this sorta crap: Where the failings of the individual becomes the responsibility of GOVERNMENT to correct. Just like crimes with guns, it is the gun's fault, and the manufacturer's fault; and government MUST do something about people who use them to kill other's, or want to stick the business end of a .44 in their mouth and hasten an early Dirt Nap....and so there needs to be more regulation, and oversight, and control of Free Enterprise BY government---Because therein lies the problem---not enough government involvement! And while we're finger pointing, whoever built that bridge, made the rope, etc., has a certain amount of responsibility too, no? It doesn't matter how much stuff is regulated, labeled, banned, or outlawed, since some people will still find a way to destroy themselves, if they have a notion TO destroy themselves....so good luck with The Blame Game in curing the Victim Mentality that continues to hold everything, and everybody else responsible for someone's less than stellar actions, and insuring a steady flow of "victim's"---who once were known to be "perpetrator's". (Cont)
Vince January 31, 2012 at 05:10 PM
And yes, I am sorry for what this family is having to deal with, BUT, it isn't society's fault, government's fault, or whomever makes or sells this craps' fault that this man committed suicide---nor is it ANY of their responsibility to fix a "problem", that isn't a "problem", until someone creates a "problem" from whatever it is they may utilize TO create that "problem" ---AGAIN, it was a very unfortunate (in retrospect) individual, and personal choice. Maybe people shouldn't be given a choice in anything any longer, since they can't seem to make the "right one's" nowadays. So I think maybe we need to regulate Personal Choice and that should cure everything...
justme January 31, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Wow I have never even heard of this stuff. I remember when this happened as well. Such a sad ending to a life that still had so much longer to explore, and those poor children :( Condolences to the family and friends
Ken Mayes January 31, 2012 at 07:22 PM
If someone wants to get the word out about a product that they feel parents should know about because someone they know has been using it in an inappropriate way, that's fine. But as soon as you introduce your loved ones personal history you are always going to open yourself up to criticism, so be prepared. If you do not want to be lambasted then keep it to the point. This product is legally sold, it is used for purposes that maybe harmful, parents beware.
Vince January 31, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Ken, Yep, this is a public Forum, open to comments from the public. Stories like this often compel a "knee jerk reaction"---some people react with profound sadness; sympathy, and want to make it "all better", best they can. Some people automatically point a finger to where ever they think the REAL blame (in their mind) comes from, and as a rule, if thy sit back and think things over, their initial reaction proves to be in error. Me? I am a realist, and MY "knee jerk reaction" usually, is based solely in reality---although most folks don't want to hear of things based in reality, I am stuck in that mode. Metaphorically speaking, MY realistic view is, that "it is each and every one of our individual responsibility to not only steer our vehicle down the road of life, in what each of us view as the right gear", but ALSO "to take full responsibility for perhaps steering it into a ditch, for whatever the reason we leave the road, only to crash and burn---and with any luck, IF we survive the crash, ideally, we learn from the experience, and pay better attention when next we get behind the wheel"... And once again, I am sympathetic to this family's loss, yet I cannot abide by other people trying to lay off blame elsewhere---because that does not do anything to solve the real problem of bad individual choices, and only "gives license" to weak minded, or opportunistic types to latch onto The Victim Mentality, and use it as a crutch, and excuse for THEIR lousy behavior...
Paula Thomas January 31, 2012 at 09:23 PM
This is Sharon Guffeys sister i want to let you all know that she did this story in the hopes of letting other parents know and what to watch for. I know in San Diego Ca that they are trying to pass a law banning this stuff. I truly hope it goes thru. All this stuff been said is true. But I really hope that you all never have to lose a child no matter what age. Our family is not asking for anything but to help save another child or even and adult. Yes we are all in since in pain over losing one of our loved ones. All our family wants is to get the message out there so no other parent has to go thru what my sister and her family goes thru everyday. She knows very well that her son Greg was wrong and that he was wrong but does she need to be told such mean and cruel things. All I can say is I truly hope that anyone that has lost a family member to this stuff this story helps them. All she wants is to be able to know that this has done some good and will save another life.
Martha L. Bridges January 31, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Paula, it has certainly done some good to know about this stuff...many people don't know and the knowledge may, indeed, help someone out. The loss of a child is something no mother is ever prepared for no matter what the circumstances. My sincere Condolences to your family.
Bud Green February 01, 2012 at 06:32 AM
Never made a mistake and had to turn to another to bail your butt out have you? Never DIDN'T make a mistake because of a law or regulation either huh? You're one of those people too intent on spreading their rhetoric to know when to just button your lip and keep your self-righteousness to yourself, huh?
Bud Green February 01, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Well we all know prohibition never works. How about a letter-writing campaign/boycott of the places that sell it? Pressure the retailers to get it off the shelves maybe.
Paul February 01, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Most people have not heard of this. The promoters of this crime against people take a complex molecule that has been banned,and make a sythetic molecule that is almost the same, but has an atom or so different so it is not the banned substance, then sell it under names like "bath salts", "plant food", K2, etc.
Paul February 01, 2012 at 02:07 PM
People can learn a lot about these designer drugs quickly. Just Google "bath salts" and/or look on Wikipedia. These drugs when inhaled or injected cause effects similar to cocaine or meth. such as paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, self mutilation, violent behavior, and sometimes death. There were about 303 calls to poison Control Centers in 2010 growing to over 6,303 in 2011 so the problem is clearly growing.
Paul February 01, 2012 at 02:28 PM
The US House of Representatives passed a law December 8, 2011, 317 to 98 to ban ALL these substances by placing them in drug schedule one. There are some objections to the way it is worded because the ban would also delay or obstruct legitimate research to cure diseases like Parkinson's and others. The US Senate has not yet voted on the bill because a hold has been placed on it by ONE Senator. Thats right!, one senator can hold up a vote on a bill. This time it is Senator Rand Paul.
Paul February 01, 2012 at 02:31 PM
A number of states have already passed laws against it. Other states are in process of banning it. Then selling it is against state law in those states.
Vince February 01, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Bud, Please don't assume that my very strong, deeply held opinion on this matter does not come with a "back story"...I know first hand what it is like to lose a child (well--ADULT child) to the ravages of drug use...and I also know that when it is an adult who is killing themselves with any type of dope, it is all the more difficult to help them to stop.
STACEY February 01, 2012 at 08:52 PM
i am also very sorry about your loss.... i would be just as any normal person would be DEVASTATED.. losing a loved one sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!! A person can not blame the drug ... it is personal choice!! And when taking ANY kind of drug there are side affects and warnings that follow! LIKE TAKE AT OWN RISK!!!!!!!!!!!!! ADDICTIONS ARE HORRIBLE AND WE ALL HAVE THEM... Some addictions are worse then others!!! People will find drugs no matter what we do to keep them off the street!!!!! I hope i NEVER have to deal with what your family has had to deal with... my heart goes out to you all!!
Son of Liberty February 02, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I heard if you snort Rat poison, Bleach, comet, 409, flouride toothpaste, or any other things commonly found in society, you will get very ill or die. So lets ban them all. I'm so tired of everyone so quick to ban. I BAN YOU. Get out of this county of free choice. I personally have ZERO sympathy for thia man. I understand people make choices, and people suffer consequences. If you don't what to die, then dont try to die, the balls in your court.
Vince February 03, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Son of Liberty....why you dang *#@$%&+*^ you!! How DARE you speak words of logic, based in common sense? And not to forget smoking the little banna peel strings on that List of "Do-It-Yourself Highs"! Heck, I was there in the mid 60's when that deal hit, and talk about a BUZZZZZZZ....well, more like a major headache! But being as how me and my Ultimate High Seeking runnin' pal's believed fully that "Necessity IS The Mother of Invention", we gave up on smokin' 'em, and yeah O.K....it was a headache driven change of plans----and so instead we took them little nanner strings, dried em in Mom's oven, chopped 'em up fine as frog hair, and then...SNORTED the dust piles!!! Now that right there will surely clean out yer sinus cavaties...well, not the "peel string dust", that tends to clog 'em up...BUT, the diluted salt water and Hydrogen Peroxide that was then introduced to clean out the Nanner Peel String MUSH, did one heckuva job of it... Point is? As long as there are self destructive people walking around, they will find a way to self destruct...
Luke April 13, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Son of liberty, The problem with your argument is that all those products you mentioned serve a function and are used for things other than getting high. To my knowledge these "bath salts" aren't used for any other legit purposes.
Tracy June 03, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Vince...no compassion and zero empathy? There is help abailable for people like you too.
Tracy June 03, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Sociopath, lacking empathy and compassion.
Tracy June 03, 2012 at 12:37 PM
And yes Vince...Government responsibility! They are collecting sales tax revenues for the sales of bath salts that are killing our children, including my son!
Vince June 03, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Tracy...Well then, I do apologize profusely...for speaking MY mind. Fact is Ma'am, I lost a child myself to Crank...and to this very day I blame nobody but HIM for the pizz poor choices he made leading up to the point of "checking out"---Although I have had fleeting moments of blaming myself for perhaps having failed him in my responsibilty as a parent---in retrospect. The Jury is still out on that deal though... We are all confronted with choices, on a day to day basis, and the biggest trick to a long, and happy life is SOMEHOW making the right choices---which can be difficult. But shoveling CRAP in one's nostrils (if that is the preferred method for Bath Salts?) for a BUZZZZ, to me is the kinda of "choice" where an individual probably doesn't have to look much beyond the end of thier own NOSE to recognize that it is a poor one...Sorry you lost a child, but at the very least, take solace in the fact that maybe he didn't die in vain, and that maybe some good will come from his death, and that maybe some other parent will not have to suffer the consequences of your child's poor choices by learning from them. So yup, you are right I have asbsolutely NO COMPASSION whatsoever for people who effectively kill themselves---and again, it is SOLELY their responsibility to not kill themselves by bad choices..and if they do? Well then, it was by THEIR choice. Pretty simple philosophy, yeah?

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