A New Jersey prosecutor announced Friday that a murder suspect whose alleged use of the designer drug "bath salts" led to the banning of the substance in the Garden State did not have the drug in his system following his March arrest.
William Parisio of Cranford, N.J., has been indicted for the March 13 murder of his girlfriend, Pamela Schmidt. According to a press release announcing the charges, Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said toxicology reports showed that Parisio did not have the substance in his system following his March 14 arrest.
In the days following his arrest, Parisio's mother, Dianne, told the Star-Ledger that her son was high on bath salts when he was accused of murdering Schmidt in the basement of his parents' Cranford home. Parisio entered a not guilty plea in New Jersey Superior Court in March.
MDPV, which has gained the street name "bath salts" in light of the similar appearance to the therapeutic and benign luxury product, has become popular as it causes a high similar to methamphetamine. The effects of MDPV include remaining awake for hours, hyper behavior, potential paranoia, anxiety and increased sexual arousal.
In March, the New Jersey Poison Control Center said that there had only been 10 reported cases of bath salt use in New Jersey. The drug originated in Europe and has gained popularity in the United States since the beginning of 2011.
A bill banning Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, better known as MDPV, the primary drug in bath salts, had been pending in the state legislature prior to Schmidt's murder and gained bipartisan support in the days following the crime. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed the ban into law on August 23, following a preliminary ban by acting state Consumer Affairs Director Thomas Calcagni in April. The law gained the name "Pamela's Law" in Schmidt's honor.
"It is like playing Russian roulette because you don't know what the impact would be," said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D) of the effects of using the drug. "For some they can become paranoid and hallucinate. [The salts] are quite addictive."
Stender, who sponsored the ban after she saw a report about the drug on the "Today" show, said she had not seen Romankow's report, but defended the bill, noting Dianne Parisio's statement following her son's arrest.
"That seemed to indicate that the substance was used prior to the murder happening," Stender said. "The fact of the matter is this substance is dangerous and should not be legal."
In addition to the state law, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) announced his support of a bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to ban MDPV on the federal level.
A spokeswoman for Christie referred questions about bath salts to Attorney General Paula Dow's office. A Dow spokesman said Christie signed the bill for public safety concerns, not because of Schmidt's death.
"The governor signed the legislation because so-called 'bath salt designer drugs' are extremely dangerous," Dow spokesman Paul Loriquet said Friday. "The chemicals have no valid medical use and can only cause life-threatening medical harm to those who ingest them. Regardless of who the law was named after, the legislation was signed by the governor to help save lives."
While Stender and Assemblyman John McKeon (D) were the original sponsors of the bill, another 12 legislators, including six Republicans, signed on to the bill after Schmidt's murder. Following Christie's Aug. 23 signing of the law, multiple lawmakers sent out individual press releases trumpeting their sponsorship of the ban. Christie's own press release highlighted Schmidt's murder and the name "Pamela's Law" in the first paragraph.
Stender indicated that she believed the initial connection between bath salts and Schmidt's murder helped pass the ban in New Jersey.
"I think it brought a lot of media attention to the issue because of the timing," Stender said on Friday about Dianne Parisio's statement. "It was linked to this event that certainly gave greater prominence to the issue at the time."
Bath salts are commonly found in convenience stores and sold in packaging resembling that on gardening supplies. Stender said she has heard reports of people being able to obtain MDPV in stores near the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick. Parisio and Schmidt were both students at Rutgers.
New Jersey is the first urban/suburban state to institute a ban on bath salts, which have become popular in rural America. Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota and Idaho are among the dozen states that have instituted bans on the drug. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) became the first state official to prohibit the drug, when he ordered the state health department to place it on a ban list in January.