More than a dozen head shops across the state have been found to be selling illegal synthetic drugs, including bath salts. Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced 12 lawsuits against 16 head shops for selling these products. But the AG's office is focusing on a different approach to getting the drugs off the shelves quicker. As our Katie Gibas reports, the key to their strategy is focusing not on the illegal chemical in the drug, but on the labeling of the products.
NEW YORK STATE -- The number of people using synthetic drugs, including bath salts, has increased exponentially in the last year. And the results of that use have been devastating.
"In Texas, there's a man who killed and ate his housemate's dog while high on Spice," said Eric Schneiderman, the NYS Attorney General.
Jeanna Marraffa, a clinical toxicologist at the Upstate Poison Center, added, "We really have no idea of exactly what's in there. We don't know if it's a combination of chemicals. We don't know how much of a chemical is in there."
And that's why Schneiderman is taking a new approach to getting these drugs off the shelves. He's focusing on improper labeling, rather than the substance itself.
"It is illegal to mislabel products or to fail to label products. This product is not intended for human consumption. But we found that, in fact, the folks selling this will give a tutorial on how you can consume all these products. This product doesn't even have a label. But I think anyone can understand what it is being sold for," said Schneiderman.
After several months of undercover work, the AG's office is suing 16 head shops across the state for illegal labeling, including “Twisted Headz” in Syracuse, "Trip on the Wild Side Two" in Watertown, "Rolling Fire Glassworks" in Endicott and "Goodfellas Alternative Smoke Shop" in New Hartford.
"If you don't accurately tell where it comes from, what's in it, who made it, what the warnings should be, we're getting it off the shelves. We get an injunction against them selling the products. We get fines. And if they fail to comply with the injunctions, we can actually shut the stores down, so this is, we think, a very effective way of deterring this activity," said Schneiderman.
Marraffa added, "There certainly has to be great strides on the legal sides of things, but from the health care professional and education perspective, I think increased awareness and talking to your kids about the dangers of these substances and just because they're legal doesn't mean they're safe."
Schneiderman is seeking temporary restraining orders against the head shops named in the suit to get the products off the shelves immediately. And then prosecution will follow.
A state Supreme Court justice will hear arguments in the case New York State versus Twisted Headz Wednesday morning. Twisted Headz decline to comment. The other head shops named in the suit have not returned our calls for comment.