DA, Sheriff Warn Designer Drug Sellers

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January 31, 2012 | 2:49pm

The District Attorney and Sheriff today announced their offices are sending letters to nearly 100 businesses in the county, warning they could face criminal or civil penalties if they don‟t follow a new state law banning the sale of synthetic drugs, including an increasingly popular and dangerous drug commonly known as "bath salts."

“We‟re taking this action to let businesses know about the new law and penalties they could face,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. “More importantly, we want to be proactive to let San Diegans know how dangerous these drugs can be. "Bath salts" in particular have been linked to an alarming number of calls to poison control centers and scary emergency room visits.”

The first wave of letters is being mailed today to mini-marts, convenience stores and other businesses that have been known to sell "bath salts." The letters inform store owners about the new law and explain that failure to comply with the law could result in criminal prosecution or a civil enforcement action. Potential sanctions include fines and imprisonment or permanent injunctions and substantial civil penalties.

"One of our concerns surrounding the use of these designer drugs is the inherent innocence in their names,” Sheriff Bill Gore said. “Make no mistake: these are toxic substances that can and have resulted in death. Our goal in sending this letter and holding this news event is to educate parents, businesses and the public on the dangers of 'spice' and 'bath salts.'"

“We are taking this new threat to our children seriously,” said County Supervisor Greg Cox. “That's why I will soon partner with the District Attorney and the Sheriff to seek a civil abatement ordinance that will allow us to target those in the unincorporated area who sell or provide these dangerous drugs to our children.”

Assembly Bill 486, authored by Assemblyman Ben Hueso, went into effect October 9, 2011 and makes it illegal to sell, dispense, distribute, furnish, administer or possess for sale synthetic stimulants commonly known as „bath salts.‟ California joined several other states, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom in acting to place bans on the drugs. Last September, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) invoked its “emergency scheduling authority” to control the three synthetic stimulants contained in "bath salts."

“The Governor‟s signature on this bill gives law enforcement the authority it needs to go into stores and remove these harmful drugs from the shelves,” Hueso said. “This new law is making a huge difference, especially in the lives of children in San Diego County.”

"Bath salts" are a synthetic stimulant that contains amphetamine-like chemicals, including mephedrone, which can have a high risk for overdose. Doctors at poison centers and emergency rooms have reported the drug can cause rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, chest pain, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, delusions and suicidal thoughts. The drugs come in powder and crystal forms like traditional bath salts—hence the name. Users typically snort, inject or smoke them. The drugs are sold under names such as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” Vanilla Sky,” and “Bliss.”

On January 19, the San Diego County Board of Education adopted a resolution granting school districts express authority to discipline students for conduct involving or related to „bath salts‟ and other synthetic drugs.

Poison control centers have reported a huge increase in the number of calls about exposure to bath salts. In 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 303 calls; in 2011 it reported 6,072 calls.

Also attending the news conference in support of the District Attorney‟s letters to businesses were San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne; Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Special Agent-in-Charge Jeffery Morrow; and Deputy District Attorneys Steve Robinson and Thomas Papageorge along with Neighborhood Market Association President Mark Arabo.

“The San Diego Police Department is committed to enforcing the laws of the State of California, as well as ensuring public safety,” said San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. “This includes warning business owners who engage in the sales of illegal synthetic drugs, commonly known as "bath salts," that they may face criminal and civil penalties, if found to be in violation of the new state law.”

"NCIS wholeheartedly endorses changes in the drug laws and commends the District Attorney's initiative to eliminate the local retail sales of synthetic stimulants,” said Jeffrey Morrow, Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent-in-Charge. “These products present serious health and safety risks and are a public nuisance. Our sailors and marines work in complex and dangerous environments every day; this makes the use of illicit drugs incompatible with military service. The armed services have a „zero tolerance‟ policy regarding synthetic cannabinoids: If you use them you will be caught and your career is over. While drug use in the Navy and Marine Corps is certainly not widespread, the loss of even just one sailor can weaken readiness and morale. The efforts of our friends and partners in the DA's Office, the San Diego Police Department, the Sheriff's Department and other agencies not only protect the entire community, they strengthen the ability of the Navy and Marine Corps to accomplish our vital national defense missions."

“The Neighborhood Market Association and our 2,000 small businesses are proud to have supported AB 486,” said Mark Arabo, President of the Neighborhood Market Association. “Bath salts and spice have no place on our retailers' shelves and no place in California. We are honored to be part of this proactive coalition led by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and our association will work to make sure businesses are in compliance with the new law. We also encourage any retailers who are not members of the association to stop selling these dangerous drugs, if you haven't already done so."

Anecdotal reports from emergency rooms across the country about people who have used the drug are alarming, including users who were so agitated, violent and psychotic that large doses of sedatives failed to calm them. “These designer drugs can be frightening,” said Richard F. Clark, MD, emergency room physician and director of UCSD‟s Division of Medical Toxicology. “Based on our experience in the emergency department, these drugs seem to make users more violent, more aggressive and more easily addicted. Our best defense right now is public education and prevention.”