It all began last week. A hysteria swept across the country after a gruesome scene unfolded in Miami. It seemed too peculiar to be true. In broad daylight, beside a busy Florida freeway, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene attacked a 65-year-old homeless man named Ronald Poppo. When police arrived on the scene, they found Eugene naked, tearing chunks of flesh from Poppo’s face, and eating it.
As the story goes, police tried to intercede and Eugene “growled” at them, then turned his attention back to Poppo. The officer drew his weapon and shot Eugene—but the cannibal persisted. Five shots later, Eugene was dead. Poppo was in critical condition, but expected to survive.
As you might imagine, it was only a matter of time before talk turned to zombies. An attack so gory, with an attacker that’s growling and seems oblivious to being shot, well, has all the makings of a zombie movie. And while most of us are logical enough to believe that zombies don’t actually exist, this story was enough to give us pause.
It wasn’t long before another story emerged, this one out of Maryland, where a college student admitted to killing his roommate and then eating his heart and brains. Again, too gruesome to be true. What could be behind these attacks?
A spokesman for the Center for Disease Control responded to a question from The Huffington Post about the possibility of a Zombie epidemic: “CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).” In fairness to The Huffington Post, they had a few good reasons for posing the seemingly-ridiculous question in the first place. First, the Internet chatter about a “zombie apocalypse” was palpable. But also, the CDC has used “Zombie Preparedness” in recent years as a way of raising awareness about emergency preparedness as a whole.
Now, in fairness to the CDC, I don’t honestly believe that anyone at the organization actually believes in zombies. However, as way to get younger Americans to pay attention to the importance of emergency preparedness—which was proving to be a little daunting—they came up with the zombie approach, and it worked. The campaign went viral, exposing countless young adults to some basic tips and tools to be better prepared for any emergency. As it turns out, if you’re prepared for a zombie pandemic—with food, water, flashlights, batteries, a plan for safely exiting your home—then you’re also prepared for a fire, earthquake or hurricane.
In the case of the Miami “zombie,” officials believe that the real culprit might be a relatively new designer drug, known as “bath salts.” (Bath salts, in this context, have nothing to do with salt, or bathing—or the stuff in those gift baskets your kids get you on Mother’s Day. It’s just a crafty name, designed to mask the drug’s intended use.) Essentially, the drug is a form of methamphetamine, manufactured with ingredients that aren’t banned yet. However, bath salts are banned in 38 states, and last fall the DEA banned three chemicals commonly used to make the drug. Additionally, the U.S. Senate voted this week to ban the chemicals used to make “bath salts.”
While these recent news stories are unsettling, Americans can rest a little easier with the knowledge that a zombie apocalypse isn’t afoot, and that “bath salts,” once readily available at convenience stores, truck stops, and on the internet, might be a little harder to come by.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 06/07/12.
© Damien Willis, 2012. All rights reserved.