Charges were filed in June against the owner of Royal Tobacco on Belair Road after investigators found two products identified as bath salts and a synthetic marijuana known as spice. The store’s owner, Yan Zheng, and Jacques Poitra were charged with sale of a Schedule I drug.
The investigation began after the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office received complaints that the store was selling tobacco products to underage children. Around the same time, a teen flipped a vehicle on Washington Road and ejected one of his passengers. In his vehicle, officers found spice, which the driver said he had bought from Royal Tobacco, Investigator Johnny McDonald Jr. said.
Bath salts are not as easy to find on the streets because there isn’t a field test kit. However, Dr. Hany Elia, the medical director at Serenity Behavior Health Systems, said there has been an increase in patients treated for the drug.
Bath salts are legally sold in stores as a research chemical or plant fertilizer “not for human consumption.” The drug can mimic the effects of cocaine, LSD, MDMA and methamphetamine. Users typically snort, inject or smoke the drug, which is sold legally online and
in drug paraphernalia stores under names such as “Red Dove,” “Zoom” and “Scarface.”
The drug was first recognized in Germany in 2007 and surfaced in the United States in 2010.
In the first few months of 2011, poison control centers had already reached the caseload seen for all of 2010.
In October, the Drug Enforcement Agency released an order to make three of the chemicals used to produce bath salts illegal.
Gloria Downey, the nurse manager at Crisis Intervention Unit at Serenity, said the unit has seen at least three known bath salts cases. The users are usually in their teens to early 20s and show extreme signs of delusion and paranoia.
“It is very, very bad when they are using it,” Downey said. “The few we’ve had don’t really realize how out of it they are when they’re going through it.”
Even at Serenity, doctors cannot identify users of bath salts and have to rely
on the truthfulness of the user.
Little is known about the long-term effects of the drug, but researchers say some cases have already proven deadly.
In January, Dr. Russell Russo, a third-year orthopedic surgery resident at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, published a study on a 34-year-old woman who had to have her arm, shoulder and collarbone removed and a radial mastectomy after she injected bath salts into her arm at a party. The injection produced a flesh-eating bacteria that progressed so rapidly doctors were forced to amputate.
Other studies show injections can produce a potentially life-threatening
reaction to too much serotonin.
“There is no telling what the long-term effects are going to be because these are pretty rough chemicals people are putting into their bodies,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Allan Rollins.
Law enforcement is seeing more new designer drugs on the market. Rollins compared problems with bath salts to spice.
One year ago, the DEA categorized five synthetic chemicals used to make spice as Schedule I drugs. However, spice can still be found legally in stores as new forms of the chemicals replace the illegal ones.
“All they do is change the formula a little so that those aren’t the exact same chemicals anymore,” Rollins said. “There has been a proliferation of literally hundreds of new brands coming out that aren’t controlled substances.”
Investigators said the popularity of spice, which also does not have a field test kit, exceeds bath salts.
“We’ve heard that bath salts are out there on the streets,” McDonald said. “They’re just not talked about as much as spice. We run across that almost weekly.”