A 31-year-old man found dead in the Spokane River last month had psychological problems that were aggravated by his addiction to a hallucinogenic drug sold as “bath salts,” his family says.
For months, Christopher Don Rogers had been in what family described as a downward spiral. He left a mental health facility in Portland against the advice of doctors and returned to Spokane, where he experienced drug-induced delusions that prompted him to call the police. He ended up at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center this summer – delusional and dehydrated from hours of running around barefoot in downtown Spokane high on bath salts, a synthetic drug that is banned in Washington and Idaho.
A month later, on Sept. 17, Rogers was to visit his girlfriend when he apparently decided to have one last fix, said Victoria Gibson, 62, a longtime family friend.
“Bath salts made him feel like superman, but he was acting like a maniac,” Gibson said.
His body was pulled from the Spokane River the next morning.
He’d spent the previous day at the Spokane County Interstate Fair with his girlfriend and her two children. He planned to go to her home in Rathdrum that night, but family suspect he experienced psychosis after taking the hallucinogen and may have run into the river.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office has not determined his cause of death, an employee said Friday. Toxicology reports are pending.
Gibson describes a long history of attempts to help Rogers that she believes were hindered by a lack of continuity in mental health services, a lack of follow-up by professionals and psychological problems Rogers couldn’t seem to overcome.
“Of course Chris had a choice when he decided to use drugs,” Gibson said. “He made an awful choice. One I know he regretted. He wanted help.”
Gibson is hoping to help organize a better network for dealing with mental health issues in Spokane and for extensive training for all law enforcement on mental health issues. She’s also hoping to help educate people about the dangers of the hallucinogenic substance advertised as bath salts – a drug his family was unaware existed until Rogers began using it.
“He was doing really good there for a while,” said his uncle, C.J. Mayer. But “he just got into them and he just kept saying, ‘Oh there’s nothing wrong with these.’ ”
Some states have no penalties for the drug, but they are outlawed in Idaho and banned in Washington by the state’s Board of Pharmacy.
“It’s like anything else – the numbers have gone down but we know it’s still (being sold),” said Jim Williams, executive director of the Washington Poison Center, which recommended the state board implement the ban.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, just bar none,” Williams said of bath salts. “When things go sideways with this product, they really go sideways, with really, really tragic consequences.”
The hallucinogenic substance emerged in Washington this year; reports of problems with the drug from the East Coast began surfacing in early 2010.
The drug brings a bevy of side effects that include severe paranoia.
“We are aware of numerous situations where people have committed suicide, even after they had originally thought the drug was out of their system,” said Williams, who had just returned from a national conference where the drug was discussed.
He said Rogers’ experience of increased paranoia is a common one.
Bath salts have caused a big uptick in calls to poison control centers nationwide, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune: Last year, centers received about 300 calls on the synthetic drug. Already this year, they’ve logged more than 4,700.
“We’re trying to get the word out there, but we’re running up against a stone wall in some places,” Williams said. “The people who use these are not typically looking at your traditional forms of media.”
Gibson hadn’t heard from Rogers in three weeks when she learned of his death. She’d seen him earlier in the summer when he was high on drugs and called police to his apartment because he thought it was infested with bugs. Spokane Police officers, accompanied by a Spokane Mental Health employee, were able to coax him into protective custody. Gibson visited him in the hospital weeks later, after police found him running around downtown. He stayed in the hospital for five days, near death because of dehydration and kidney failure.
Rogers served four years in prison for a drug charge that involved a firearm enhancement, but Gibson said Rogers was able to find work and had good recommendations from past employers. He was interested in the medical field after getting a job removing dead bodies in the Spokane area.
“He didn’t make fun of the job. He didn’t make creepy jokes about it,” Gibson said.
But it didn’t last. His mental health problems, coupled with his drug problem, cost him the job. He had one last contact with his friends and former co-workers – they pulled him from the river on Sept. 18 after an employee at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park discovered his body.
“That just sort of closed the circle of all the people who cared about Chris,” Gibson said.