Packages of "bath salts" are shown at a news conference at a Ventura… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
When a woman smashed into a Moorpark home with her car last June, police at first thought they were dealing with a garden-variety DUI.
Instead, the incident led Ventura County prosecutors to file charges against three alleged distributors of "bath salts" — designer drugs that can cause psychotic episodes and are readily available in many head shops and on the Internet.
At a news conference Tuesday, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said the prosecution is probably the first of its kind in California. Cases involving the drugs have been difficult for prosecutors because "rogue chemists" swiftly change the drugs' composition to stay ahead of legislation banning specific components.
The solution for Ventura County, Totten said, is to file "the same charges as if they were distributing and selling methamphetamine or Ecstasy."
Ingredients in the bath salts are chemically similar to those in banned substances and also induce the same type of bizarre behavior, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Blake Heller, who is prosecuting the case.
The local investigation led to Jonathan Kirk Riedel, 31, in West Jordan, Utah. He has been extradited to Ventura County, where he is being held in lieu of $1-million bail, Totten said.
The other suspects are associated with two Doughmain head shops, in Moorpark and Thousand Oaks. They are Joshua Longfellow Wright, 36, and Brandon James Sarrail, 26. The three have been charged with sale, possession for sale, and distribution of bath salts.
The drugs can be snorted, smoked or injected. They are also referred to with wink-and-a-nod designations such as "ladybug attractants" or "window cleaners." They can come as pills, powders or liquids and often are packaged with names like "Bubbles" or "Vanilla Sky" that are thought to convey an exciting appeal. Some are marketed with images of popular cartoon figures, such as Scooby-Doo.
Officials said the drugs cause long-lasting hallucinations and sometimes trigger violent outbursts. Raising body temperature, they can cause frantic users to remove their clothing. Authorities say the drugs are extremely addictive.
The artificial stimulants, often manufactured in Asia, swept into the U.S. in the last few years. Poison control centers have logged more than 6,000 calls about bath salts from 2009-11.