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Bath Salt Epidemic Traced Back to Chinese Lab

By McCarton Ackerman 06/18/14

The synthetic drug that has wreaked so much havoc in the U.S. was the product of a tiny one-man operation in Shanghai.

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A new report confirms that the bath salt epidemic which ravaged much of the U.S. was created thousands of miles away in China, originating from a small office and factory run by one man in the Shanghai area.

Eric Chang, director of the China Enriching Chemistry, was arrested by Chinese officials last November and is currently in jail after being charged with producing ecstasy. Investigators say he made around $30 million selling drugs to the U.S. and Europe, and made shipments stateside as recently as February 2013. One woman who was part of a Syracuse drug ring bought 100 kilograms of mephedrone from Chen, for which he charged $5,400 per kilo.

"It was right there on his website that if your package is seized, he'd keep shipping till you get it," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman, who prosecuted the case. A Daily Mail reporter based in Hong Kong gained access to Chang’s lab and noted squalid conditions including cabinets splattered with orange chemicals.

Hundreds of people in central New York were sent to the emergency room a few years ago from hallucinations, seizures, and heart attacks stemming from bath salts. The synthetic stimulant can result in highly aggressive behavior in some cases. Dr. Ross Sullivan, a physician at SUNY Upstate University recalled one patient who needed to be injected with a sedative as 10 people held the man down.

Meanwhile, law enforcement in New York couldn’t figure out what the drugs they had managed to seize were after testing negative for heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine. Chemists in Chang’s lab were periodically tweaking the compounds so they wouldn’t test positive for a controlled substance. “It’s damn clever on their part,” said James Burns, assistant special agent in charge for DEA operations in upstate New York. “It’s been a real challenge to keep up with this stuff.”

However, drug officials in the region have begun to make headway on that front. Michele Caliva, who runs the Upstate New York Poison Control Center, said the state department had banned stores from selling bath salts, which led to a drastic reduction in emergency room visits from the drug.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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