Washington (CNN) - Congress will consider cracking down on a new drug that is similar to cocaine but is marketed as a household product and sold legally at convenience stores across the country.
Democratic New York Sen. Charles Schumer plans to introduce a bill to put these drugs - which are sold in small paper packets innocuously labeled "bath salts" - onto a list of controlled substances that would allow for government oversight.
"These so-called bath salts contain ingredients that are nothing more than legally sanctioned narcotics, and they are being sold cheaply to all comers, with no questions asked, at store counters across the country," Schumer said in a statement. "The consequences of delaying action are deadly."
The packets actually contain what a drug expert says is a synthetic version of cocaine or ecstasy. Instead of sprinkling the packet into a bath, a user can smoke the drugs for a quick high.
"A lot of the stuff comes in a Kool-Aid-type package," said Michael O'Neil, an associate professor at the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy and chairman of the West Virginia Controlled Substance Advisory Board, who has served as a consultant with the Drug Enforcement Agency and has spoken to teen groups in the state about the danger of using these drugs. "You get these big highs, euphoria, often hallucinations, and they are stimulants as well, so they can cause a lot of psychosis."
Florida and Louisiana have banned the sale of these drugs, and West Virginia legislators are considering a similar ban. The packets, with names like Red Dawn or Purple Wave, can cost between $20 and $80 and can also be purchased online.
Since the drugs are not meant to be ingested, their effects on humans haven't been studied and are not always recognized in hospital emergency rooms, O'Neil said.
But media and law enforcement reports of bizarre behavior, including people under the influence of these drugs behaving erratically while hallucinating, prompted several states to take action.
The White House drug czar also put out a warning about the "bath salts" and said poison control centers have reported a sharp rise in calls about the drugs - more than 250 calls so far this year.
"Although we lack sufficient data to understand exactly how prevalent the use of these stimulants are, we know they pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of young people and anyone who may use them," said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, in a statement.