After a number of bizarre incidents, a designer drug known as "bath salts" went from being virtually unheard of to taking over the national spotlight in what many are calling a drug epidemic.
The recent incidents started late last month when Rudy Eugene, suspected to be under the influence of bath salts, allegedly attacked a homeless man and bit off over 80% of his victim's face before being shot and killed by police. There have been at least four our violent incidents across the country since then and U.S. lawmakers are now scrambling to try to find a solution.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, explains the race to jumpstart legislation and education efforts to stem the use and sale of "bath salts."
Read a transcript of the interview after the jump.
GIL KERLIKOWSKE, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: You're welcome.
SAMBOLIN: I want to start talking about explaining bath salts, because I know we've had this information a lot out there. But I just want to be very clear that this is not what you buy to use in a bath. So, if you can explain that quickly.
KERLIKOWSKE: Absolutely. They are marketed as incense, bath salts or plant food, not for human consumption. These are a variety of different chemicals are incredibly powerful and cause that you just mentioned, not only violent incidents but a lot of psychotic episodes with young people.
SAMBOLIN: And they are bought under a lot of names. I have to tell you this, Cloud 9. We went on the Internet and we could purchase this off the Internet.
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, one of the things that we're really hopeful is new federal regulation that will ban this. Many of the states have already banned it. But what happened is that the people that sell and market this who are truly bottom feeders change their chemical compilation and then are able to skirt the law. But hopefully federal legislation is going to work to stop that.
SAMBOLIN: Tell me a little bit about that federal legislation. You talked about the chemical compilation, you're banning certain chemicals that are used in it?
KERLIKOWSKE: It's over 28 different substances. And when these are put together and sold as things we just mentioned, that was the significant problem. Federal legislation also will allow the department of justice and others to be able to stop them from being imported in the form that they are in.
SAMBOLIN: So this is a growing problem. I want to throw up some statistics here. The number of calls went up from 304 in 2010 to 6,138 in 2011. There have been already more than a thousand calls this year alone.
Would you consider this an epidemic?
KERLIKOWSKE: You know, I wouldn't consider it an epidemic because we've heard of waves of problems different drugs over many years that have come forward. But I guess the most important part is that we want to alert parents and the partnership at drugfree.org along with the Department of Justice actually developed a kit.
You know, parents are pretty good at being able to talk to their kids about alcohol and marijuana and cocaine. But they really didn't have the information until recently to talk to their kids about these synthetics.
SAMBOLIN: So, what is the time line you're talking about to fix this problem?
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, we're very hopeful with the work of Senator Schumer and Senator Klobuchar and others, that the federal regulation will move forward.
But remember, a number of states have already taken action. I guess the most important part is, it isn't going to be just about law enforcement or a particular law. It's also about educating young people with a trusted voice like a parent, a coach, police officer, to tell them about the dangers. I mean, the people that sell and market this stuff are truly low lives.
SAMBOLIN: And when you look at the list of priorities for you. Where do you rank this?
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, it's difficult to rank one drug as more dangerous or more prevalent or more of a problem than others. I mean, we have our own prescription drug problem which you all have remarked about quite a bit.
KERLIKOWSKE: And we certainly see an increase in use of these synthetics with young people. The question was asked last year on a survey for first time ever and what we saw was one in nine high school seniors who talked about using this synthetic. And I think that should be a great concern to all of us.
SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. And we really appreciate you wanting to raise awareness about this. I think we have a Web site that we're going to put up here for folks who want more information. If you can tell us where to go, it's at drugfree.org? Is there anywhere else?
KERLIKOWSKE: WhiteHousedrugpolicy.gov will also give you some more information. And, again, these kits for parents give them the information they need to warn people about this dangerous substance.
SAMBOLIN: Well, Gil Kerlikowske, we appreciate your time - White House drug czar. Thank you.