March 18, 2011 -- The arrest of a New Jersey student who has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend has intensified a statewide push to ban the sale of a designer drug marketed and sold as bath salts.
William Parisio, 22, is being held on $400,000 bail after the beaten body of his girlfriend, Pamela Schmidt, also 22, was found in his basement bedroom in Cranford, N.J.
Parisio, who had recently dropped out of Rutgers University, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder on his 19th birthday and had been in and out of drug rehabilitation programs.
His mother, Dianna Parisio, called the police after discovering Schmidt's body around noon on Sunday. She told authorities that her son had recently been taking bath salts, sold over the counter and increasingly used as a cheap, legal high.
Two members of the New Jersey state Assembly had already been planning to introduce legislation modeled after a similar bill in New York aimed at halting sales of bath salts in the state.
"This is just such a senseless tragedy. It's absolutely heartbreaking. I wish we had had this in place so that this tragedy could have been prevented," Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, told ABC News. "This innocuous 'bath salt,' which has the active ingredient MDPV in it, is like playing a game of Russian roulette because you don't know what the effect is going to be on a person."
Stender's bill 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 any trace of the chemical.
"I'm happy to see that our government is doing something about it," Parisio's mother, reached by phone at her home, told ABC News.
The phony bath salts are usually manufactured in Europe, China and India and sold in individual bags -- about $20 for a 2-gram pouch -- on the Internet, in convenience stores and on the street. They come branded with names like Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge +, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove, Cloud-9 and White Dove. Symptoms can range from a racing heart to headaches to a paranoid psychotic impact.
A Troubling New Trend
The powders cause intense cravings for more even though they can trigger extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, hypertension and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.
"There is tremendous hyper-activity and aggressiveness" associated with the stimulant, according to Steven Marcus, executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System. "The individuals we've gotten called in for so far were incredibly agitated and required big doses of sedatives to calm down."
Marcus told ABC News that his poison center has received "in the range of a dozen" calls about bath salts this year, compared with none last year.
"Although we kind of have a handle on some of the things that are going on, this one could be below the radar," he said.
It is also unclear what effect the drug would have had on Parisio given the fact that he is also struggling with a bipolar disorder, Marcus said. He declined to speculate on whether the effects of the drug may have exacerbated Parisio's symptoms.
"If someone has an underlying drug abuse problem as well as a bipolar problem and takes a drug, it's kind of unpredictable what's going to happen," he said. "If someone has any illness -- I don't care whether it's bipolar disorder or cardiac disease -- taking a stimulant like bath salts can get them into trouble."
Both Parisio and Schmidt had been students at Rutgers University, where there is no pronounced bath salt trend.
"This is the first time we've heard of anything like this. But of course, we could be completely off on that because Rutgers is a huge school and college students are ... well, college students," Mary Diduch, the editor-in-chief of Rutger's newspaper, The Daily Targum, wrote in an email to ABC News. "But from what we know, it's not a problem here. We didn't even know bath salts could be abused as a drug."