Rudy Eugene, dubbed the “Miami Zombie,” was high on bath salts May 26, 2012, when he cannibalized a homeless man’s face, rendering him blind.
Although 31-year-old Eugene was shot dead 18 minutes into the attack, three years later he remains America’s most infamous cautionary tale of synthetic drugs gone bad.
“Bath salts” or “spice” (manufactured marijuana) came under sweeping media and law enforcement scrutiny several years ago when a rash of high-profiles crimes — such as Eugene’s — were committed under the influence of the synthetic drugs. Frequent side effects of their use include suicide and psychosis.
Now, Monterey County’s Four Cities For Peace have resolved to eradicate synthetic drugs from their city boundaries, said King City City Councilwoman Darlene Acosta. Acosta also works for Sun Street Centers, a residential drug treatment program.
Last Monday, Gonzales, Greenfield, King City and Soledad entered into a joint resolution prohibiting the sale and distribution of synthetic drugs, which, experts say, are used predominantly by teenage boys. Each respective city council must still vote on the matter, Acosta said.
The resolution follows a state law approved Sept. 16 that makes it an infraction to possess any synthetic stimulant as of Jan. 1, 2016. Already, it’s a misdemeanor to sell or distribute some synthetic drugs.
California’s law is too specific, Acosta said. It targets specific chemical compounds — naphthylpyrovalerone and 2-amino-l-phenyl-l-propanone, for example — rather than using a broad brush to criminalize all synthetic compounds.
The 4C4P resolution differs from state law in that it doesn’t specify ingredients, Acosta said.
“We’re dealing with street drugs, and with that you never know what you’re getting,” she said. “As soon as [legislation] lists the chemicals, the chemicals change and the resolution becomes inert.”
Rather, the 4C4P resolution lists the synthetic drugs by their names which range from innocuous-sounding titles like “Vanilla Sky” and “Purple Wave” to more sinister-sounding nicknames such as “Scarface” and “Voodoo.”
Synthetic drug-use is nearing “epidemic” levels in southern Monterey County, Acosta said. Scarier yet, manufacturers market their products specifically to teenagers, she said. The effects of bath salts and spice on young brains still aren’t totally known.
“They’re labeled as ‘potpourri’ or ‘jewelry cleaner,'” she said. “I watched one video where the employee told him, ‘Come back tomorrow and ask for potpourri, I can’t sell it to you as spice.'”
She added, “They knowingly sell it to minors because they know they can make good money.”
Nationally, synthetic drugs are a billion-dollar business, Acosta said. In Soledad, however, Police Chief Eric Sills says the city’s two smoke shops have complied with requests to discontinue selling bath salts and spice.
Although Soledad police aren’t finding many people in possession, anecdotally, some are admitting to using synthetic drugs, Sills said. Six months ago, Sills said he was one of six officers who responded to a call regarding a combative, shirtless man challenging people to fight in a Soledad neighborhood.
“The reality is, it took probably four or five of us to get him down safely without using a Taser,” Sills said. “When we finally got him into custody, I asked if he was using PCP. He said yes. Later, Cmdr. (Chuck) Wasson asked if it was spice. He said it was bath salts.”
PCP (Phencyclidine), also known as Angel Dust, was a popular hallucinogenic used in the 1980s and 1990s. One of its more dangerous side effects gives users robust strength and the feeling of invincibility.
Bath salts had a similar effect on this suspect, Sills said. Before cracking down, Sills said Soledad saw a rash of similar suspect behavior. Among that he included a stabbing incident that took out two elderly people and a Soledad police sergeant. All three lived, but the sergeant hasn’t yet returned to work.
“What would cause this kid to attack his grandparents?” Sills asked. Bath salts are still on the table, he said.
Greenfield Police Chief Adele Frese relayed a horrifying tale stemming from her years as a police commander in Corpus Christi, Texas. In 2012, she told Acosta in an email, an 11-year-old girl was abducted and raped by a trio of 19-year-old men who had been drinking and smoking synthetic marijuana before the attack.
Afterward, the girl was dumped at the beach.
“The offenders were apprehended, but the girl still suffers panic attacks and sleeps with her mother and father more than a year after the attack,” Frese wrote.
Drug-seeking people in Corpus Christi were well known for using K-2, spice and “Kush,” Frese said.
Frese, Gonzales Police Chief Paul Miller and interim King City Police Chief Tony Sollecito didn’t immediately return calls from The Californian on Monday for more information regarding synthetic drug use in their respective jurisdictions.
Acosta said education would be key in targeting synthetic drug-use.
“Different areas have passed these ordinances,” she said. “And people have gone to jail, most certainly, for selling a batch that kills young people. And that’s probably what it’s going to take (to fully eradicate synthetic drug-use).”
The 4C4P resolution was announced the same day California proponents filed a voter initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, according to a release.
Recreational marijuana differs from synthetic marijuana in that the latter is a leaf sprayed with harmful chemicals, Acosta explained. To be clear, Acosta didn’t share an opinion regarding marijuana use.
Titled the “Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2016,” the initiative was filed at 11 a.m. before proponents were scheduled to head to “Hippie Hill” at 4:20 p.m. in San Francisco to celebrate.
April 20, or “4-20” is nationally, if not officially, known as a day to smoke marijuana.
Next year’s effort to legalize recreational pot-use is proponents’ second attempt to put California on the legalization map. As it stands, California is the only West Coast state that doesn’t allow recreational use.
In 2010, an effort to legalize marijuana in California failed by a narrow margin. Americans for Policy Reform is behind the 2016 push, which coincides with a presidential year — typically a larger turnout year.
Sills says he worries about organized crime trying to siphon off business from legitimate growers should marijuana become legal in California. And, he added, that’s not even postulating reaction from the federal government.
“It’s still unlawful federally,” he said. “Who knows what the feds will do? Confiscate all your revenue? I don’t know.”