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SPECIAL REPORT: Synthetic High Part 1
BATH & ITHACA (WENY) -- It's a topic we've been talking about a lot lately - police arresting people high on substances known commonly as bath salts, or synthetic marijuana. But these so-called "legal" drugs are just as dangerous - if not more so - than the real thing. It's a problem plaguing small local police departments in the Twin Tiers, and turning users ito violent, paranoid, dangerous people.
"I was told it was like legal cocaine," says 23 year old Alyssa Perison, who was introduced to bath salts less than a year ago.
It was just the beginning of a downward spiral out of control that lasted up to six months, maybe longer - her memory of that time is now just a haze.
"It felt good, but the effects shortly after that, when I started coming down I realized very quickly that I wanted another one," she explained.
We're not talking about the stuff you put in the bathtub to relax. These substances, often sold as incense, potpourri or hookah cleaner, contain amphetamine-like chemicals, and are often snorted, smoked or injected; giving the user an intense high, but with severe side effects.
"I had severe, severe paranoia. Even after using it for a long period I started getting suicidal thoughts," Alyssa said.
"It's a rather dangerous situation to be in, depending on how much they've ingested, or how their body tolerates it. most of the people we're finding are very combative. combative, out of control," says Bath Village Police Investigator, Heather Wheaton.
Investigator Wheaton says in the past six to eight months, the Bath village police department is taking a skyrocketing number of calls involving people high on bath salts and synthetic marijuana.
"One young man just ran and slammed his body into the side of our patrol car, tried to climb a tree downtown, broke the tree limb, and it took four officers to get him under control," she said.
Wheaton says these designer drugs became so popular so quickly simply because when they first hit the market, they were perfectly legal - sold in tobacco shops, head shops and convenience stores.
"You had people that had been arrested on prior drug things, and they said 'you know what? this is a way I can abuse drugs, and can not be arrested.' And I think it was just that simple - it wasn't illegal."
In the past year, both New York and Pennsylvania have taken steps to keep these dangerous substances off store shelves. Both states have a ban on bath salts - Pennsylvania's also includes synthetic marijuana. People caught selling the drugs in PA face up to five years in prison, and a $15,000 dollar fine. Posession will land you one year in jail, and a $5,000 dollar fine.
In New York, the laws are less strict. Stores are banned from selling the substances, but it's up to county health departments to enforce, and possession is not against the law.
Earlier this month, police in Ithaca seized $45,000 worth of bath salts from 3D Light on the Commons. But even if the drugs aren't available in stores - they're sold online, and can be shipped right to your door.
"This just become a whole new realm for us, and frankly we don't have anything in place yet to help us deal with this," says Wheaton.
"They're tearing apartment families and friendships," said Alyssa.
To view Part Two of this special report, click here.