Feds Arrest Ten in First-Ever 'Bath Salts' Bust

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Buying Bath Salts Undercover in New York City

During the course of the ABC News "20/20" investigation of bath salts and other designer drugs, a producer purchased "ThundaCat" at Addiction NYC, which a store clerk sold to her when she asked for bath salts. Lab tests showed that the ThundaCat packaged purchsed by ABC News contained lidocaine, which dentists use to numb the mouth, but no MDPV, mephedrone, or methylone, which are commonly found in bath salts.

ABC News also found "synthetic marijuana" products at Addiction NYC. The 14-year-old daughter of an ABC News employee went into the store to buy "Spice," a brand of "synthetic marijuana," but the store clerk said she had to have ID showing she was 18 and no purchase was made.

"We don't have 'bath salts' no more," an employee of Addiction NYC who answered the phone said Wednesday. He said he wished to remain anonymous. "I see this [bust] more as advertizing than anything. We don't have bath salts but we have everything else people want."

Bath salts first surfaced in the United States two years ago. The expert who first saw that bath salts were emerging as a major public health threat was Louisiana Poison Control Center Director Dr. Mark Ryan.

"They're selling time bombs," Ryan said in an interview for "20/20." "We've had some people show up who are complaining of chest pains so severe that they think they're having a heart attack. They think they're dying... They have extreme paranoia. They're having hallucinations. They see things, they hear things, monsters, demons, aliens."

ABC News interviewed the parents of 21-year-old Dickie Sanders of Louisiana, who took his life in November 2010, after snorting a packet of Cloud 9 bath salts. Dickie experienced waves of hallucinations lasting days, his father, Rick Sanders, said, and eventually shot himself with a rifle.

The New York criminal complaint named four synthetic chemicals found in bath salts, MDPV, mephedrone, methylone, and 4-MEC, all said to mimic the "highs" produced by powerful Schedule 1 drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. Three of the four chemicals, Mephedrone, methylone and 4-MEC are "controlled substance analogs" under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning they are designer drugs that resemble a controlled substance.

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Authorities were able to charge the alleged drug ring under the Federal Analog Act, which allows any chemical that is "substantially similar" to a controlled substance to be treated as a controlled substance. Spokesman Rusty Payne said the DEA had invoked the Analog Act "for other drugs," but the new case marks the first time it's ever been done with bath salts.

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There is no federal ban on all bath salt products, but more than 35 states have banned at least some of the chemicals commonly found in the drugs. Louisiana put an emergency ban on the drugs immediately after Dickie Sanders' death. In late April New Jersey banned the manufacture, sale or possession of bath salts, and in May New York followed suit.

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