Ten people were arrested on Tuesday by federal agents and charged in the first-ever federal prosecution dealing with "bath salts," a dangerous new designer drug that has been linked to emergency room visits and deaths across the country.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said a Seattle-area supplier led the ring, and shipped the bath salts to a handful of New York City head shops. The bust was the first for a new New York-based DEA task force targeting bath salts, a group of substances sold in convenience stores and head shops that mimic the effects of cocaine or ecstasy.
"This is so new to us," said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne. "In the last year it's just taken off in the U.S. -- we've never seen anything like it."
"Bath salts are one of the latest designer drugs to reach our shores, and they have proven to be a public health and safety menace with dangerous, and sometimes deadly, consequences," said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where nine of the arrests were made.
"Bath salts" were the subject of a June 3rd ABC News "20/20" investigation that found that despite being linked to several deaths, bath salts have been sold in stores and online with little oversight.
"Bath salts" have spurred approximately 2,500 calls to poison control centers nationwide since 2010, and have been connected to four deaths so far this year, including a 23-year-old Florida man and a 51-year-old woman in West Virginia.
The 26-year-old who authorities say is the "bath salt" ring's supplier, Miguel Ashby, was arrested in Washington state, and charged with distribution of controlled substances. If convicted he could serve 20 years in prison.
Ashby operated his company, Ascension Therapeutics, out of the Seattle area, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. He ordered MDPV, a drug commonly used in bath salts, over the internet from China, the complaint said. MDPV is a chemical designed to mimic the effects of the illegal drug ecstasy. Ashby would package the MDPV and distribute the products to the other nine defendants in the case, according to the complaint. His website was live at the time this story was published, offering bath salts for sale online. The home page reads, "Relieve your stress today!"
The other nine defendants were employed at New York City head shops, including Addiction NYC, Tattoo Heaven, Crazy Fantasy Tattoo, and Smoking Culture, and were arrested on charges related to either distribution of controlled substances, receipt of misbranded drugs, or delivery of misbranded drugs.
One of the head shop employees arrested Tuesday told an undercover agent buying bath salts he would get an "amazing high," according to the complaint.