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Centre Co. Judge Signs Order against 'Bath Salts'; DA Dubs Products 'Fake Cocaine'

on May 11, 2011 4:42 PM

BELLEFONTE -- Centre County President Judge David E. Grine has declared so-called "bath salts" a public nuisance, effectively banning the sale and possession of the mind-bending stimulants throughout the county.

Violators could face a civil penalty of as much as $1,000 apiece.

Grine's order came Wednesday afternoon, hours after District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller filed civil litigation against three county businesses that she said had been selling "bath salts" products. Those businesses are Jamaica Junction, 111 S. Pugh St., State College; Dragon Chasers Emporium, 115 S. Fraser St., State College; and the Uni-Mart at 341 W. Lamb St. in Bellefonte.

In her civil complaint, Parks Miller indicated that the "bath salts" -- including the synthetic stimulants methylene, mephedrone and methylenedioxyprovalerone -- are "an emerging menace" already banned in several states, including Florida, New Jersey and Louisiana. She asked Grine for an immediate injunction against the sale of "bath salts" locally while her complaint works its way through the court process.

State lawmakers in Harrisburg are weighing statewide action against "bath salts," but it's likely to be months before any such action will take effect, Parks Miller said in an afternoon press conference.

"We decided to take this route because we know that legislation (in Harrisburg) was moving slower than we want," she said.

Calling the substances "bath salts," Parks Miller went on, is false branding. "This is fake cocaine."

The products are sold under names such as "Tranquil," "Infinity," "Ivory Wave," "Bounce," "Plant Food," "Meph," "Mad Cow," "Shaken Back," "Roan," "Bubbles," "Meow Meow," "MCat" and "MMC," according to the court order.

Parks Miller encouraged residents to alert her office to any other businesses in Centre County selling the "bath salts." The three businesses specifically targeted in her complaint, she said, knew well that they weren't selling actual bathing products. (Bona fide, traditional bath salts are not restricted under Grine's order.)

"It's not a spa," Parks Miller said of the targeted businesses. She said the legal action "is what we could come up with to do our share to protect the community."

In an earlier news release, Parks Miller said that "retailers are playing a deadly game in our community selling these highly dangerous drugs with fake labels in order to sidestep the law and make a buck. ...

"No one would sincerely be paying $50 for a few teaspoons of bath bubbles at a truck stop or a smoke shop. Nor would they need their bath bubbles to contain a mind-altering substance similar to PCP," she said.

No one answered the phone at Dragon Chasers Emporium on Wednesday afternoon, and someone at Jamaica Junction asked a reporter to call back later. Parks Miller's complaint lists Rajiv Chauhan and John B. O'Keefe as the proprietors of Jamaica Junction and Dragon Chasers, respectively.

At the Lamb Street Uni-Mart in Bellefonte, proprietor Sanjaykumar R. Patel said his store stopped selling "bath salts" a couple months ago. That's when the Bellefonte police told him that people were getting sick from the substances and that there was community concern about the products, Patel said.

Before then, he said, his store sold "bath salts" for about three months. "It was crazy" how popular they were, he said.

Patel said "bath salts" customers there were always carded. No one under the age of 18 was able to buy the products at his Uni-Mart, he said.

Injunctions against "bath salts" have already taken effect in at least three other Pennsylvania counties, and Parks Miller said neighboring Blair County may make a similar move. Three "bath salts"-related deaths have been reported there.

No fatalities stemming from the substances have been reported in Centre County, but law-enforcement officials said they've seen an explosion of use in the past six months.

Parks Miller said "bath salts"-caused cases have bogged down local emergency rooms. The scourge has also put dangerous people on the road and created hardships for families, she said.

She said the substances create effects similar those caused by real cocaine: an edginess, agitation and combativeness. Users also can become paranoid or delusional, and enter hours-long "downs," Parks Miller said. Some turn suicidal as they experience extreme psychedelic and psychoactive effects.

The Mount Nittany Medical Center emergency department saw 20 "bath salts"-related cases in March alone, Parks Miller said.

In fact, right as she and local police officials convened in Bellefonte for their press briefing Wednesday, another "bath salts" case was reported in State College. It was on Waupelani Drive, borough police said.

Back in Bellefonte, Parks Miller said it's tough to put an exact number on the volume of local cases connected to "bath salts." But it is high, she said.

Spring Township alone has seen seven confirmed cases. State College borough has seen many more than that. Parks Miller said authorities worried that some people may assume the products are safe since they were being sold out in the open.

In at least one local instance, she said, authorities were told that school students had gathered to buy "bath salts" after the school day ended.

State College police Chief Tom King said local police fully back Parks Miller's effort.

"We all have total, total support for what the district attorney has done," King said.

Parks Miller's office also has had support in the matter from the county probation and parole department, Mount Nittany Medical Center, and Child and Youth Services. She has cited supporting affadavits from multiple police departments and local agencies.

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