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Legal Substances in Bath Salts Increasingly Abused, Linked to Hallucinations

Courier News, Home News Tribune & Asbury Park Press-Apr 10, 2011 | By MARK SPIVEY

The Vaults of Erowid might sound like a location in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, but it’s something else entirely: a comprehensive online collection of information about a wide range of psychoactive substances, where one can read seemingly endless testimonials penned by marijuana users describing feelings of relaxation, cocaine users writing about nervous energy, even heroin users discussing their desperation to kick their habit.

But there’s one substance about which these testimonials, with few exceptions, trend toward the nightmarish end of the spectrum more often than those describing many other drugs. Yet as of now, the substance also is perfectly legal to buy over the counter in most U.S. states, New Jersey included, marketed as 250- or 500-milligram packages of bath salts selling for $50 or less.

"It honestly felt like I was dying, and there was no way to make it better unless I redosed," one Erowid contributor named "GRiMM" posted on June 10, 2010, about Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, more commonly known as MDPV. "MDPV is perhaps one of the dirtiest highs I have ever felt, and the comedown is one of the worst feelings in the world . . . looking back, we probably did close to 75-100 mg each in exchange for our souls and the worst experience of our lives."

Physicians nationwide during recent months have cited symptoms of MDPV use closely mirroring those described in many of the testimonials, saying it can cause increased blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, paranoia and delusions, with a particularly high incidence of intense cravings and addiction.

Use of the drug first started making headlines in New Jersey last month when a Cranford resident told the Courier News and other media outlets that she believed her son William was under the long-term influence of "bath salts" around the time authorities allege he killed his longtime girlfriend, Pamela Schmidt, in the basement of his home. Diane Parisio said her son told her he purchased the substances in at least one New Brunswick convenience store before trying it for the first time in January.

MDPV seems to be as easy to acquire here as it is just about anywhere in the many states that have yet to institute a ban on the sale, possession or transportation of the drugs. States that already have imposed bans include Florida, North Dakota and Louisiana.

"We did some field research here and were able to purchase them from a reputable Internet retail (website)," said Brenda Esler, assistant director of the Somerville-based Somerset EmPoWER, an organization dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse, addiction and related problems. "We purchased it for $10."

"Thebiggest thing that I’m concerned about is kids having a misconception that it’s not illegal, therefore it’s safer," Esler explained.

It’s a pattern that extends back decades, according to Douglas S. Collier, a special agent with the New Jersey Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Collier applauded the efforts of state legislators who during recent weeks have moved to ban MDPV and mephedrone from New Jersey store shelves.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Union, and Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, announced a bill that would make it a third-degree crime punishable by three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines to manufacture, distribute or possess products containing the drugs. But what likely would strike a devastating blow to the growing trend is a federal ban, Collier added.