A few years ago, upstate New York found itself with a "bath salts" epidemic on its hands—except it didn't exactly know what it was dealing with. The synthetic stimulant tested negative for drugs like heroin and cocaine, which allowed it to be sold legally, and it was landing locals in the ER with crazy hallucinations. Then came what NPR terms a "lucky break" in the fall of 2010: Police were alerted to a woman shooting at "ghosts" on her porch and ended up finding 7 kilos of what turned out to be bath salts—a factory-made derivative of the stimulant mephedrone—marked with a shipping label that led investigators to Shanghai, Eric Chang, and his company, China Enriching Chemistry.
NPR digs into Chang, first talking to a journalist who once posed as a big buyer and spoke with Chang, "an ambitious, successful guy that was driving an expensive SUV, drinking lots of Red Bull energy drinks." Chang touted himself as a big producer, and investigators back up that assertion, saying he made some $30 million selling drugs to the US and Europe. Chang was named in a federal indictment last year in Syracuse, but without an extradition treaty, he's out of America's reach ... in more ways than one. NPR last week visited Chang's headquarters, where his mother revealed that he was arrested by Chinese authorities in November and has been charged with producing ecstasy. As for upstate New York, officials tell NPR that, after a crackdown on sales, things have improved. (Read more drugs stories.)