In the Aftermath of Head Shop’s Closing, Police Expect Bath Salts Sales to Go Underground

Police jump out of their vehicles as they raid the 420 Emporium on East Broadway July 25
Police jump out of their vehicles as they raid the 420 Emporium on East Broadway July 25.

The 420 Emporium may be closed and its owners headed for prosecution, but police expect synthetic drugs to remain a problem as they hope for more new laws to help them crack down on users and sellers.

Fulton Police Inv. Mike Batstone said recently that users of synthetic marijuana and the class of drugs nicknamed bath salts will simply order their drugs through the mail.

Fulton’s 420 Emporium head shop was raided July 25 by federal agents and Fulton police during a nationwide crackdown on synthetic drugs brought about by a new federal law banning them.

All five of the chain’s stores — in Fulton, Syracuse, Batavia, Rochester and Brockport — were raided that day.  Two people at the Batavia store were arrested.  A woman was photographed by Oswego County Today in handcuffs outside the store on Broadway but it appears she was not arrested.

The chain’s owners, a couple from Rochester, were not arrested that day after agents searched their home.

The Fulton store did not reopen after the raid.  A Fulton city official said the store was forced to stay closed by the city codes department.  A pink sign bearing the city seal, taped to the front door, confirms that.  420 Emporium employees, after cleaning out the store, put their own sign on the sidewalk.  It said the store had not been closed by the raid but by what they said was “a slumlord”, a reference to the code violations.

The Syracuse store reopened the day after the raid.  The store in Batavia remained closed, according to The Batavian.

The raids capped what Batstone said had been an increasingly scary two years.  The last six months, he said, had been the worst of the problem.  That coincides with the Nov. 2011 opening of the 420 Emporium.  Cases of people using bath salts, he said, “just exploded” in 2012. (At least one other Fulton store sold synthetic drugs, according to documents filed in a recent court case.  That store has also closed.)

“We’re dealing with no other drug cases other than these,” Batstone said.

At least a quarter of all cases handled in a given day have something to do with bath salts, he said.  Before synthetic marijuana and bath salts were made illegal, all police could do with many users was to transport them to the county’s mental health facility in Oswego.  But those transports, and the related paperwork, drained man-hours from regular police work.

And the people using these drugs were very different from the addicts of more traditional drugs.  Batstone recounted cases of a bath salts user who had slept only 3 of the last 27 days, and another who had gone from 120 pounds to 87 pounds in just three weeks while using the drug heavily. “Some of them look like survivors of a concentration camp.”

They become irrational, psychotic and paranoid, Batstone said, noting that one bath salts addict told him he had to keep reminding himself that his shadow was not the police coming to get him.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “You have no idea how scary it is to talk to people like this.”

The easy access to drugs that were legal created many more addicts, Batstone said.  “I’ve got more people who would not have been addicted before.”  He said that local heroin and crack dealers told him “they were very upset that their clientele was gone.”

But now that bath salts are illegal, they will become another product of street dealers and illegal mail order operations.

Already, Batstone said, the price for bath salts has tripled to at least $100 per half gram.

The federal law is a good start, he said.  He’s hoping the state legislature will pass laws banning synthetic drugs before the end of the year.  Fulton city lawmakers take up a local ordinance to ban synthetic drugs Tuesday, after cities such as Utica, Rome and Syracuse enacted local bans.

Anything aimed a curbing synthetic drugs will help, Batstone said, noting that police “feel like the Dutch boy with the dike, with my whole body pressed against the wall.”

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