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State AG sues Watertown store, 15 others over alleged synthetic drug sales

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The state attorney general announced Tuesday he has filed lawsuits against a Watertown “head shop” and 15 other similar businesses statewide over the alleged sales of synthetic drugs.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman included Kenneth W. Hamm, owner of Tripp on the Wild Side II, 671 Mill St., in a statewide action designed to crack down on stores that allegedly are violating state labeling laws by selling designer drugs, including commonly known synthetics such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

Mr. Hamm said Tuesday that he has had notice that he was being sued, which included which part of the law he allegedly violated, for about a week. However, he was not informed which products were causing the violation. He said he had to learn which products were being identified on the Internet.

“When I got my paper, it had nothing,” he said. “If my products are mismarked, or not properly marked, I’ll take them off the shelves; it’s nothing at all.”

In a prepared statement, Mr. Schneiderman said the sale of the synthetic drugs has led to a “public health crisis” across the state and country. With psychoactive effects similar to those in substances obtained for illegal drug use, the products typically are packaged with innocuous names and bright graphics to give the misleading impression that their use is harmless, he said. According to the suit filed at the Jefferson County clerk’s office, an undercover investigator purchased three products at the Watertown shop that “are intended to affect the function of the human body” and therefore are classified as nonprescription drugs considered commodities under state Agriculture and Markets law, which requires labeling showing the product’s manufacturer and a description of the product.

One product, “CaliCrunch,” was labeled as a smokable incense, which offered to “relax” the user. A cashier aided the investigator in purchasing a pipe to go with the product, sold by the gram.

Another product, “Lucky Kratom,” was sold as a pain reliever with “maximum potency.” A listing for the product called it a psychostimulant, which in high doses can lead to addiction.

A third product, “Zaney Bar” pills, resembled prescription Xanax pills, but were evenly scored with three lines creating quarters. A cashier allegedly advised the investigator not to take more than half of a pill at one time.

The store also was accused of selling a product called Adarol Energy, a pill that shared a phonetical sound with prescription stimulant Adderall and had ingredients that had drawn past FDA scrutiny when labeled as a “dietary supplement,” along with nitrous oxide whipped cream chargers that authorities said have a track record of abuse.

It is alleged that the products at Mr. Hamm’s store lacked the appropriate labeling. He said he has removed all of the offending products from his shop.

“I know for a fact I don’t have to worry about it no more,” he said. “I immediately pulled it from my shelves.”

While the attorney general’s crackdown is aimed at all unlabeled synthetic drugs, a recent spate of incidents involving bath salts has highlighted the need to combat the issue. People who take bath salts have shown a propensity to become paranoid and violent, frequently displaying extraordinary strength and immunity to pain. Dr. Maja Lundborg-Gray, an emergency room physician at Samaritan Medical Center, said in Mr. Schneiderman’s statement that bath salts endanger not only the person using them, but the public and first responders as well.

“There is a completely new level of violence and unpredictability associated with these patients,” she said. “In some instances, hospital staff has been diverted from helping other patients in order to assist in securing and stabilizing designer drug users. This demonstrates the gravity of the danger posed by users of designer drugs.”

Mr. Hamm said he has was surprised his business was singled out, as other stores in the area have sold bath salts, something he claims never to have offered at his store.

“I do not sell bath salts and I will never sell those at my shop,” he said. “Why would they mess with a shop that doesn’t sell that? They need to take care of the problem, not go after us.”

In his statement, Mr. Schneiderman also cited a June 7 incident in which a Watertown man crashed his vehicle into six parked vehicles at Olive Garden on outer Arsenal Street while allegedly under the influence of “Spice,” a synthetic marijuana product, and two other medications. Jason D. Threadgill, 22, allegedly admitted to use of the drug, as well as Vicodin and naproxen, while being questioned at the scene by sheriff’s deputies and a state trooper, deputies said. He was arrested on charges of driving while under the influence of drugs, reckless driving, driving at a speed not reasonable or prudent, driving an uninsured vehicle and having an obstructed license plate.

In Mr. Schneiderman’s legal action, which has been filed in 12 counties, his office seeks an immediate end to the sale of any mislabeled drugs. It also is seeking additional information from each business about the types of products that are selling, including the name of the product, the manufacturer, the price and the number of units sold. The businesses also may face monetary penalties.

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