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Wednesday
Jun292011

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

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- 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 recently developed 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 3 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.

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.

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.

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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