A Doylestown-area man who stripped naked, jumped out a window, tackled a woman and gnawed on her head might have been under the influence of a new type of synthetic drug, a local drug educator said Thursday.
Richard Cimino Jr., 20, faces multiple charges in connection with the Sept. 7 attack in the northern Pennsylvania town of Hawley.
Known as Ricky, Cimino lived in Buckingham Township, graduating from Central Bucks High School East in 2010.
The alleged details of the bizarre attack bear all the hallmarks of use of drugs known on the street as "bath salts," said David Fialko, a drug educator with a Doylestown-based agency.
A Coopersburg man had his own bizarre run-in with the law, later admitting to a judge that the incident was also fueled by bath salts.
Created in laboratories and never tested on humans, the synthetic compounds cause effects similar to cocaine, according to a study published in June by researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
People using bath salts often strip off clothing, because the drug makes their body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate rise, Fialko said.
The drug acts somewhat like an anesthetic, so users feel no pain, Fialko said. That could explain how the suspect jumped out a second-story window, yet allegedly continued his rampage while severely wounded.
"This is classic synthetic drug-induced behavior," Fialko said. "Some people have compared it to PCP. Could it be? Yes. But this matches the physical side effects of synthetic bath salts a little too closely. It was very similar to the Rudy Eugene case down in Florida; it was the same behavior."
Eugene, the "Causeway Cannibal," stripped naked and attacked a homeless man, eating most of the man's face before being shot and killed by police.
Eugene's toxicology screen showed only marijuana in his system, but even leading toxicologists say that doesn't mean he wasn't using bath salts or another synthetic drug.
That's because current drug tests can't pick up all the compounds that can be used to make bath salts.
"A regular drug test will not pick this up. You need to use a specific test that will reveal the specific compounds in that specific drug," Pamela Lipschutz told Doylestown Patch on Thursday.
Lipschutz works for NMS Labs, a leading national toxicology lab that happens to be based in nearby Willow Grove. It is the same lab that ran the tox screen on Eugene.
NMS has been working hard to develop new tests to stay ahead of the ever-chaging ingredients that go into bath salts and synthetic marijuana, Lipschutz said.
It isn't easy.
Every time federal authorities isolate one of the compounds in the synthetic drugs and ban it, the drug manufacturers already have moved on to one of the other hundreds of compounds that can be used in bath salts, Fialko said.
"There are things present in people’s toxicology screenings, but they’re not picked up because we don’t know what to look for," he said. "The screens test for the old stuff, but the manufacturers have moved on to the new stuff. So it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if nothing shows up" in Cimino's drug screen.
In October 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration banned mephedrone, one of the compounds in early versions of bath salts. The agency put the compound on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act for one year, pending further study. Schedule 1 drugs are those that have no medicinal value.
But drug manufacturers simply moved on to other compounds, Fialko said.
While hundreds of compounds can be used to make bath salts, even highly sophisticated labs like NMS only could test for about 40 of them, Dr. Barry Logan, of NMS, told the Sun Sentinel in July during the Eugene investigation.
Last month, the company announced it had developed two new tests that can detect 67 of the latest stimulant and hallucinogenic drugs.
Still, staying ahead of the drug makers remains challenging.
"Following the recent crackdown on synthetic cannabinoids, the illicit designer stimulant market is now growing faster than ever with new compounds appearing every week," the company said in announcing the new tests. "For laboratories, these represent a big challenge due to the multiple classes they represent and the similarity of compounds within each class."
Whether or not toxicology results in Cimino's case reveal the presence of bath salts, the incident seems to have shocked the local community into a new awareness of the drugs and the dangers they pose.
And Fialko, who works for The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, expects to be giving many more presentations on the dangers of drug use, including bath salts.
"When a young Doylestown adult does something like this, that says it all," Fialko said. "These drugs are a concern. This is something that needs to be addressed now."
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