Using the case of synthetic cathinones (commonly referred to as ‘bath salts’ in the US context), this paper analyses structural factors surrounding novel psychoactive substances (NPS) as contributing to the unique risk environment surrounding their use. Drawing on interviews with 39 people who use bath salts from four U.S. cities and analysis of the infrastructural, social, economic, and policy contexts, we document the unique harms related to changing contexts for illicit drug regulation, manufacture, and consumption. Findings suggest that NPS and designer drug markets, which are highly reliant upon the internet, share characteristics of the entertainment industry which has come to rely more heavily upon profits derived from the ‘long tail’ of myriad lesser-known products and the diminished centrality of ‘superstars’ and ‘hits’. Findings point toward increased theoretical and policy attention to changing drug market structures, more rigorous evaluations of drug ‘analogues’ legislation and greater involvement with NPS education and testing by harm reduction agencies.
The long tail of a demon drug: The ‘bath salts’ risk environment