NEW ORLEANS -- A half-dozen dangerous chemicals sold as fake bath salts and plant food have been outlawed by emergency order in Louisiana, where anyone convicted of selling them will face penalties equivalent to those for selling heroin, Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Thursday.
The powders -- sold under such names as White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove and Ivory Wave -- can cause extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, hypertension, chest pain and suicidal thoughts. Jindal called them a scourge that has "crept into our communities and ... are hurting our kids."
At a news conference in Mandeville, Jindal also announced that the state is asking the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to investigate whether the state is a national distribution center for the drugs, since more than half the calls to poison centers nationwide have been in Louisiana.
"People just don't understand the devastating effects these drugs are having," said Bruce D. Greenstein, secretary of health and hospitals, in a news release. "At least one psychiatric unit in the state is reporting to us that half of its patients in any given week in December were related to this drug."
Walter Reed, district attorney for Washington and St. Tammany parishes, said he has never encountered a drug that causes such violent behavior so quickly. He said he knows of at least three people in Louisiana who killed themselves after sniffing one of the drugs.
State law gives Louisiana's health secretary and state health officer authority to classify chemicals as Schedule I drugs if they have high likelihood of abuse, no accepted medical use in this country and no accepted safe use under medical supervision.
Conviction for illegal sale carries up to 30 years in prison.
The chemicals are generally made in China and India, the state said. The labels are very clearly phony -- each 2-by-2-inch packet holds just a pinch of powder and costs $20, said Reed, whose investigators collected about a thousand from convenience stores, gas stations and similar outlets after a 21-year-old man shot himself after sniffing "Cloud Nine".
Richard "Dickie" Sanders' death has been ruled a suicide, and tests did find the drug in his body, said Melanie Comeaux Croft, executive director of the coroner's office, on Thursday.
Although most of the 100 or so stores checked by investigators cooperated, Reed said two refused, saying sales were legal. He said his office was sending letters to every retail outlet in the two parishes on Thursday and investigators planned to go store-to-store on Friday with copies of the order.
Although the chemicals are labeled as bath products or even as poison -- complete with warnings of "Not for human consumption" -- word on the street and the Internet is that they can be sniffed as "legal cocaine" or "legal speed," Henry A. Spiller, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Center in Louisville, said last month.
Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center in Shreveport, said he warned colleagues in Texas and Mississippi that they might see an upsurge in calls about the drugs if dealers move out of Louisiana.
"We hope we see the product drop out of convenience stores and other outlets quickly," Ryan said.
He said his poison center has received 165 calls about the drug since late September -- 57 percent of the total nationwide. The next-largest number was in Kentucky, with 23, according to a news release from Jindal's office. Ryan said last month that it had turned up in nearly two dozen states, including Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
Ryan said that -- contrary to the usual poison center call -- "the vast, vast majority (of patients) are either en route or already in the emergency department when we get called about them."
He said calls about hospital patients make up only about 20 percent of other calls to the center. "The vast majority are at home, and we're able to keep them at home."
Jindal said he will ask the Legislature to further crack down on the chemicals.
The chemicals are already banned in the United Kingdom and several other countries, including Israel, Australia and Canada, according to the governor's office. It said Kentucky has filed legislation to ban the substance and North Dakota's Pharmacy Board has added several to that state's banned substance list.