Jackie Johnson is proud of her 13-year-old daughter, Angelica, who will soon be in eighth grade. Angelica gets nearly straight A's, is a member of her school's anti-bullying team, and works as a babysitter.
"She's just awesome," Jackie says. "She amazes me."
All of which is why Jackie was so surprised when Angelica ended up in Strong Memorial Hospital last month, a victim of apparent bath salts ingestion.
"She went to spend the night at a friend's house," Jackie told 13 WHAM News. "We were in touch. She's not a crazy kid. But I guess the kids kept talking about Sprite, Sprite, Sprite."
What Angelica -- and Jackie -- did not know is that Sprite can be a code word for bath salts, a synthetic powder drug meant to mimic the effects of cocaine or meth. Users dissolve the drug into a drink, such as Sprite. Jackie believes Angelica had no idea what was going on.
"When she came home the next day she said she didn't feel well and went to bed," Jackie explains. "When she woke up she complained of headaches, but that's not anything new for her. But it got worse. In a matter of hours she was hallucinating."
Jackie says her daughter was not acting. "It was real, and she was scared. I was scared. She was seeing pink bunnies and purple monkeys. She kept talking to her friend who wasn't in the room. She thought someone was sitting there playing a video game. The room was empty."
That night, Jackie took her daughter to Strong. "In less than 24 hours, she didn't even know who I was anymore," Jackie says, before getting emotional. "It was horrifying. That has to be the hardest moment for me as a parent, to not know if my daughter would recognize me anymore, to not know if she would regain her true self again."
Doctors ran tests but found nothing. Documents from the hospital indicate that Angelica remained under observation for three days, but no substances were found in her body. Jackie believes that's because bath salts are designed not to be detected. "We're still far behind in being able to test for them," Jackie says. "We have to do better. The medical staff treated us wonderfully, but they didn't know what was going on. And this is happening every day."
Angelica eventually felt steady enough to go home, but she says she remembers nothing of those days. Jackie says her daughter is embarrassed, but she thinks she shouldn't be. "This was a tough lesson. I'm so proud of my daughter. But this makes me scared of what could happen to her. My instinct is to protect her, and as a parent, you don't think to be concerned when you hear your daughter is drinking Sprite."
Jackie contacted 13 WHAM because she wanted other parents to be aware of the danger. "They're trying to get these products out of stores, but you can still find it. It's like selling crack on the corner. It's not much different than that. Kids don't know how serious this is, so their parents have to. It's not something that only ends up in suburbs or the city or wherever else. It's everywhere, and I never thought it would touch my kid."