As new details emerge about Bill Parisio, the Cranford man accused of murdering his girlfriend, Pamela Schmidt, Sunday afternoon in his family's Greaves Street Avenue home, some local lawmakers have introduced legislation to ban a new drug known as "bath salts."
Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood) has introduced legislation to ban Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, better known as MDVP, the primary drug in bath salts, in the state. In drug circles, the drug earned its nickname because it visually resembles therapeutic salts used in home tubs and spas. Those, available in convenience stores and smoke shops around the state, have been blamed by Dianne Parisio, the mother of Bill Parisio, as contributing to her son’s erratic behavior in the days leading up to the murder. In previous reports, Mrs. Parisio said her son began using the drug in December.
Parisio is being held on $400,000 in the Union County jail in Schmidt’s murder. He will appear before Judge Joan Robinson Gross at 9 a.m. Friday in Union County Superior Court in Elizabeth.
“It is a stimulant drug with very erratic and intense impact,” Stender said, noting that she and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) drafted the bill prior to the Schmidt murder.
Steven Marcus, the medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center, said that he has found a total of 10 reported cases of bath-salts use in New Jersey. Statistics from the American Association of Poison Control Centers show 1,403 reported cases of bath salt overdoses in the U.S. since late 2010. A spokeswoman for the AAPCC said overdoses have been reported in 47 states and the District of Columbia, adding that no deaths have been attributed to the drug and that nobody accused of committing a homicide attributed their actions to being high on bath salts.
Marcus said that many of the symptoms can mimic other drugs and tests have to be conducted for MDVP use. He said tests are currently being refined to determine evidence of MDVP in the bloodstream. According to a Union County law-enforcement source, bath salts have been fairly uncommon in suburban northern New Jersey.
Marcus said MDVP started in Europe several years ago, growing in popularity, which resulted in it being banned in the United Kingdom. He said poison-control centers had been monitoring it worldwide and saw it come to the United States late last year, starting in Louisiana. Marcus said it was not known why it gained popularity in Louisiana, but its "high" is consistent with methamphetamine, which is a cheap, popular drug in the rural U.S.
Its use here may have coincided with tougher security over over-the-counter cold medicines in U.S. pharmacies. People who create methamphetamine in makeshift labs use the over-the-counter cold medicines as cheap ingredients for their drugs. Most drugstores now store the cold medicines behind the prescription-drug counter. As a result, bath salts began to circulate nationally in late 2010 in rural areas where it was used as a cheap "high." A 500 mg pack general sells for $30; websites popular with drug users indicate that a single dose ranges from 50mg to 100mg.
Published reports have shown a jump in the use of bath salts nationally since Jan. 1. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal became the first state official to ban MDVP, directing the state Department of Health and Hospitals to issue an emergency order placing the substance on the state’s drug list in January. The decision was made following the state’s health department seeing the sudden rise in cases. Jindal announced plans to introduce a bill to make the ban part of state law on Thursday morning.
The Union County law-enforcement source said the drug acts like a stimulant and can lead to erratic behavior. The source said that the high from bath salts can keep users awake for up to 36 hours. The drug, which is primarily snorted, has side effects that include a feeling of euphoria, increased alertness, mental stimulation and increased concentration, sexual stimulation, hypertension, insomnia, nausea and dizziness.
MDVP is difficult to track because it's not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration or even considered a drug. The FDA, along with the DEA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy have issued warning regarding MDVP use since January. Stender said that during research for the bill she was startled by the effects MDVP can have on users.
“The thing that struck me about it, is that the active ingredient has no legitimate medical purpose,” she said. “It is a stimulant that should be used for that purpose. It has a Russian roulette range. Someone may get a raging heart while someone else has psychotic events.”
Marcus agreed, saying that he is not aware of any historical use of MDVP for medical purposes. He did agree with Stender on the range of impact.
“We have people run down the street screaming,” Marcus said of a potential impact. “You get that agitated delirium.”
Stender said other actions she has come across has those high on MDVP committing self-mutilation and participating in assault.
Because bath salts are neither illegal nor advertised as a drug, they are easy to attain through convenience stores and other locations. The law-enforcement source said the items even can be disguised as actual bath salts. The source would not disclose nearby locations where bath salts are for sale.
Stender said her research showed that many stores near the Rutgers in New Brunswick has several brands of bath salts available. Parisio claimed on his LinkedIn page that he would be graduating from Rutgers in the spring, but he apparently has been out of school this semester as he had been checked into a substance-abuse facility.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced a federal ban on bath salts. U.S. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) announced support for Schumer’s measure Thursday morning. Stender said it is too early to say if her bill will pass in New Jersey, since she and McKeon have just filed it, but it is beginning to gain support on the Republican side of the aisle. Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), the ranking minority member of the Law and Public Safety Committee, said based on the information he has heard regarding MDVP he is leaning towards supporting the bill. The bill is likely to go before the public safety committee.
Those who have used types of bath salts reported the series of euphoria. The website, bathsaltsdrug.com, reports a series of “taste tests” of various brands of bath salts. The writer of the blog, who is not disclosed, posted opposition to the efforts to make the drug illegal, saying that the drug is less lethal than ethanol.
“Minutes after ingesting the 100mg line I experience an amazing “come-up” effect that lasted about 30 minutes. This initial feeling had me ecstatic not only because of my current state, but how amazingly similar it was to the beginning of a clean roll on MDMA,” the writer wrote of using the Raving Dragon brand on Jan. 13. “I take this chance to go check myself out in the mirror to find my pupils are extremely dilated and I begin to notice a minor elevation in my heart rate, no other physical symptoms have arose. The euphoria continued to wash through my body and I was feeling happier than a tornado in a trailer park.”
The blogger wrote on Jan. 14 of using 15 mg of the Bolivian Bath brand of bath salts.
“The feeling of euphoria somewhat left about 3 hours after ingestion, and the only remaining effect was a very uncomfortable stimulation that lasted throughout all the night and into the wee hours of the morning. After cleaning everything in my house twice and alphabetizing anything that could alphabetized I finally started to feel the effect somewhat die down,” he wrote. “This weaning continued until I finally made it to bed around 7 in the morning. My next 2 hours were spent tossing about and attempting to “shut off” the millions of thoughts compiling in my cranium, until I finally dosed off somewhere between 9 and 10. This bath salt was overall too powerful for me, but it you enjoy bouncing off the walls for 12 to 24 hours at a time it may be the blend for you.”
Both the law enforcement source and Marcus agreed that while the current movement is to criminalize bath salts and MDVP, it will not be long until a new “in drug” appears. The law enforcement source said last year’s drug of choice was smokeable incense, which he said has not been criminalized and continues to be used in the area.
Marcus said those creating the drugs have shown patterns for finding a new way around the law.
“Until we can find a way to get ahead of it, I don’t known if we can get ahead of it,” he said. “Substance abuse is a real serious problem. “We have not figured out a way to deal with it in a proactive way.”
Meanwhile, friends of Parisio are talking about his erratic behavior. Steven LaFace, 30, said he'd been friends with the 22-year-old Parisio for four years, said he knew Parisio, who'd struggled with drugs for years, loved bath salts.
"He had a desire to be high. He would go to any lengths," Laface said."Everyone knew he was a drug addict, everyone that knew him."
Laface said he saw Parisio last on March 9, and said he was very edgy.
"Bill wasn't his usual self, he seemed paranoid. I suggested that he'd check himself into a mental hospital. He seemed paranoid and nervous...His body language, the way he entered the room," Laface said.
Another friend, who has known Parisio for three years and asked to remain anonymous due to the pending charges, also said he'd noticed Parisio's behavior changing and attributed it to the bath salts, which he said Parisio started taking last December.
He added that he knew Parisio took trips to a smoke shop, also known as "head" shops," on Easton Avenue close to Rutgers University and bought the bath salts for about $35 a package.
"He would talk about legal cocaine," he said.
Laface said that believed that Parisio could be a successful person if he could beat drugs.He'd already proved that he was very intelligent in school.
"He scored a 1460 on his SATs," Laface said, adding, "he was inclined to be a businessman. He wanted to drive a Lexus." And he said that Pamela Schmidt was a great influence on Parisio.
"Pam was very against drug use," he explained, adding that she tried to get Parisio to stop his behavior. She herself never took drugs and only casually drank alcohol from time to time.
Laface said that in general, he found Parisio to also be a gentle soul. "A great kid you know, a lot of fun to be around," he said, adding that he realized Parisio had mental problems, calling him a "true-blue psychiatric."
Michelle Walbaum and David Chmiel contributed to this article.