Police say an incident over the weekend at a local fast food restaurant illustrates the growing menace of so-called bath salts.
The synthetic designer drug, when smoked, snorted or injected, provides a cocaine or amphetamine-like intoxication that can cause hallucinations and paranoia.
Previously popular in Europe, the drug is sometimes sold domestically “under the counter” by unscrupulous convenience store or gas station owners, according to law enforcement authorities.
Taunton police at 9:45 p.m. Sunday responded to the Burger King at 294 Winthrop St. for a report of a distraught individual who was acting irrationally.
Employees and startled customers described how a man ran inside dripping of mud and water and screaming that someone was trying to kill him.
Bystanders allegedly told cops the man — later identified as 31-year-old Eric Conklin of 28 North Walker St. — then began stripping off his clothes, ran into the ladies room and locked himself in.
When an officer knocked on the bathroom door, the unclothed Conklin allegedly opened up and said, “Thank God you’re here.”
Police say during the past few weeks they’ve had numerous run-ins with Conklin, who allegedly has admitted using drugs known on the street as bath salts.
Each time, according to cops, Conklin has been highly agitated, sweating profusely, talking irrationally and claiming that someone is out to get him.
Conklin Sunday night was charged with disturbing the peace. The police report also notes that if he doesn’t get professional counseling and treatment chances are he’s likely to hurt himself or other people.
In May, a 31-year-old Miami man was shot to death after police said he chewed off chunks of flesh from the face of a 65-year-old homeless man.
Police initially suspected the attacker had been high on bath salts, but subsequent toxicology tests revealed marijuana, and not synthetic cathinones, was in his bloodstream when he brutalized the victim and threatened cops.
One night earlier this month, in Taunton, two people allegedly left their car in the middle of Summer Street and ran into the lobby of the police station claiming they had ingested bath salts.
The pair were taken to hospital where they were examined and released.
President Obama on July 9 signed a law identifying the active ingredients in bath salts as illegal. A total of 38 states now ban the sale of bath salts.
But products with names like Vanilla Sky, Ivory Wave and Bliss continue to be sold in some places. Authorities in the past have said warning labels, stating the products are not suitable for human consumption, has made across-the-board enforcement difficult.
In Massachusetts the Legislature is expected to pass a measure effectively banning sale of bath-salt products.The House already passed an amendment categorizing as drug trafficking the sale of such amphetamines; the Senate, meanwhile, has until this Wednesday to act.
Taunton Police Chief Edward Walsh says he’s prepared to take measures if lawmakers fail to act. Walsh said if a state law isn’t adopted to ban the sale of bath salt-like crystals, he’ll introduce a municipal ordinance making it illegal.
State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said the bath salt issue is “something we’re serious about.”
“I’ve heard a number of horror stories,” Pacheco said. “It’s being looked at very seriously.”
Managers and owners of four Taunton convenience stores on Monday insisted they don’t and never have sold bath salts, which can sell for anywhere between $15 and $35 per gram.
Alie Soufan, owner of Grampy’s Corner Store on High Street, said he’s never seen bath salts but occasionally is asked if he sells them.
Another store owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said after he informed a customer he doesn’t sell bath salts, the man and a friend eventually came back with the drug and asked why he couldn’t keep it in stock.
Peter Ibrahim, owner of Pete’s Mart on County Street, said he’s been queried on occasion by police who suspect he might have sold the potentially deadly product.
Ibrahim, 30, said in the more than eight years he’s owned his store he’s never carried such an item.
“I’ve told them they can come in here with a search warrant if they want; I’ve got nothing to hide,” said Ibrahim, who blames unnamed local competitors with spreading rumors to damage his reputation.
As for the availability of bath salts in the Taunton area, Ibrahim said he knows of at least one storeowner who in the past has sold them under the table.