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Ventura County officials crack down on 'bath salts'

February 5, 2013 | 12:25 pm

Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten in 2004. Credit: Los Angeles Times

When a woman smashed into a Moopark 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 likely the first of its kind in California. Cases involving bath salts have been difficult for prosecutors because manufacturers 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."

The local investigation led to Jonathan Kirk Riedel, in West Jordan, Utah. He has been extradited to Ventura County, where he is being held on $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.

"Bath salts" can be snorted, smoked or injected. They are also referred to with wink-and-a-nod designations like "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, like 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. 

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-- Steve Chawkins

Photo: Ventura County Dist. Atty. Greg Totten in 2004. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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