In July 2018, authorities were called to a strip mall in Fairfield, N.J., “to investigate an individual who was dancing, yelling and generally acting abnormally in front of a hair salon,” the Fairfield Police Department said. The man was reportedly experiencing severe mood swings, going from being extremely friendly to acting confused and angry. Officers found six bottles of Catnip Cocktail in his possession, along with a receipt showing that they had been purchased at Nutrition Zone, a health food store located in the strip mall.
It turned out to be the first of several incidents where police in the northern New Jersey suburb encountered alarming behavior from people who appeared to be under the influence of the little-known drug. On Thursday, the Fairfield Police Department announced that they had raided Nutrition Zone and seized 61 bottles of Catnip Cocktail, along with other contraband.
“This is a very dangerous product and it appears its improper use is on the rise,” Fairfield Police Chief Anthony G. Manna said in a statement. “In executing today’s search warrant, the Fairfield Police Department has sent a clear message that we will do whatever we can to assure that Catnip Cocktail does not become the next drug fad.”
According to its ingredients list, Catnip Cocktail doesn’t actually contain any catnip. It does, however, contain caffeine and “1-4 BDO” — short for 1,4-butanediol. The compound is listed as a Schedule 1 controlled dangerous substance under New Jersey’s administrative code, but is not illegal at the federal level. In a 2009 report, the National Drug Intelligence Center warned that 1,4-butanediol metabolizes into the “date rape” drug GHB after it’s ingested, and is often marketed as “fish tank cleaner,” “ink stain remover” or “nail enamel remover.” It’s unclear who manufactures Catnip Cocktail, and a request for comment sent through the website where it’s listed for sale wasn’t immediately returned.
While police have described Catnip Cocktail as a pet sedative, there’s no evidence that it’s actually recommended for use on animals. It’s not available through the websites of major retailers like Petco, PetSmart and Pet Supplies Plus, all of which sell over-the-counter supplements intended to reduce pets’ anxiety, but it is sold in online smoke shops, according to WNBC. The ingredients could potentially be harmful to some animals: Experts say that cats and dogs shouldn’t ingest any caffeine, which is generally toxic for pets, and a 2014 report from the World Health Organization found that there was no medical or veterinary use for 1,4-butanediol.
When consumed by humans, Catnip Cocktail depresses the central nervous system and produces a sense of euphoria, Fairfield Police Lt. Charles Zampino told News 12 New Jersey. “You’ll have the effect that you’re intoxicated, but there won’t be any smell of liquor coming off your breath, so that would be why some people come in contact with it,” he said.
Examples of people allegedly abusing the drug, which retails online for $20 a bottle, go back as far as at least 2015. That year, Omaha police found “catnip cocktail drinks” inside the car of a 27-year-old man who was found slumped over his steering wheel and stopped in the middle of the road. More recently, in February, police raided the home of a couple accused of running a drug ring in Woburn, Mass., and seized eight bottles of Catnip Cocktail along with large quantities of fentanyl, cocaine and amphetamines.
But outside of those two instances, Catnip Cocktail appears to have mostly turned up in northern New Jersey. In July 2017, two men were arrested in Hanover Township, roughly 20 minutes from Fairfield, when a police officer found several bottles in their car during a traffic stop. In January 2018, a man was pulled over in nearby Wayne for dangerously cutting across several lanes of traffic and then speeding past a patrol car. Police noticed one passenger in the car was holding a bottle of Catnip Cocktail, and that the driver, who claimed to be headed to the hospital, was slurring his speech and making “jerky hand movements,” according to the Daily Voice. When questioned, the driver admitted that he had been drinking Catnip Cocktail and had asked his passenger to hold the bottle for him.
Police in Fairfield began warning residents about the dangers of consuming Catnip Cocktail in the wake of a November incident. Responding to a report about a gray BMW that was driving erratically, officers found that the 40-year-old man behind the wheel was “extremely confused, totally unaware of his surroundings and unable to answer simple questions.” When it became clear that he would not be able to pass a field sobriety test, they searched the car and found eight bottles of Catnip Cocktail.
A statement from the police department said that the driver started yelling obscenities and screaming in a high-pitched voice when he was arrested and taken to headquarters, and eventually had to be put in an ambulance and taken to the hospital because his behavior was “so bizarre.”
Then, two weeks ago, they got another call. This time, a man allegedly carrying a bottle of Catnip Cocktail was found unconscious outside a gym in Fairfield. Officers used Narcan, which is typically used to reverse opioid overdoses, to revive him and then sent him to the hospital, a statement said.
While searching for Catnip Cocktail during Thursday’s raid, police also seized 29 bottles of human growth hormone, 20 bottles of a mixing agent, 13 bottles of prohormones and seven high-capacity handguns and rifle magazines from Nutrition Zone, which sells an array of protein supplements and bodybuilding products, according to its website. John Sirico, 48, who is listed as the store’s general manager, was arrested and faces drug charges including possession of a Schedule 1 substance, possession of hypodermic syringes and intent to distribute. He was also charged with illegal possession of high-capacity magazines, which are banned in New Jersey.
As of Sunday night, it wasn’t clear if Sirico, who is in jail pending an initial court hearing, had an attorney. In New Jersey, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession with intent to distribute and possession of a large capacity magazine are typically considered in indictable offenses, the equivalent of felonies in other states.
Officials contend that he knew that selling Catnip Cocktail was illegal, because the small pink bottles were hidden from view in the store and there were no advertisements to let customers know to look for the drug there.
“It seems quite suspicious to me that an individual looking for something to sedate a cat with would come to a Nutrition Zone and not a veterinarian,” Manna said, “to purchase a product that wasn’t even advertised or on display for the public to see.”
More from Morning Mix: