Plant Food, Bath Salts, and Turbo: Winona’s Deadliest Drugs

In Florida, they call it flakka.

It has received innocent nicknames like plant food, bath salts and meow meow.

Around Winona, they call it turbo, and it’s the deadliest drug in town.

Investigators from the Winona County Sheriff’s department said the drug turbo, or known by its clinical name Alpha-PVP, can cause side effects including blood pressure and heart rate increase. Even more worrying, is the paranoia according to law enforcement officials.

“Fits of anger, violence,” Investigators said. “They often have fits of rage towards shadowy figures and animals, believing to be possessed by demons.”


Plant food, or mephedrone, begins to show up in Winona. It’s sold on the streets, unlike in Duluth where it was commercially sold.

Shortly after plant food came to Winona, it died out, but a new hybrid called bath salts or MDPV emerged in April 2009.

Investigators said the names are now interchangeable and the drugs are relatively similar.

“Mephedrone went away, MDPV came out in 2009,” investigators said. “By the end of 2009, we were seeing it a lot.”

Investigators said these aren’t close to household products and can’t be bought at any store.

“They called it bath salts or plant food and say not for human consumption, and put little labels on that say that, so they could sell it,” Investigators said. “We’ve talked to a few users and they’ve put stuff on their plants and they killed their plants.”

Since the drugs were legal, the investigators said they would receive calls frequently. One of the investigators worked as a dispatcher during the height of the plant food crisis and said they couldn’t go an eight-hour shift without getting a call about plant food.

“Every single day when you came to work, when it was legal, there’s a call about a guy running naked down the street or taking someone to the hospital because they’re high,” the Investigator said.

One of the earliest calls they received was from a man who called about an intruder in their home. The investigators said they rushed to the man’s house only to find no one there.

“We think there is an intruder in the house and when we got there, he said the tricky little guy went into the TV,” investigators said. “You realize after speaking with him for two or three minutes, this guy is high on something.”

After interviewing many drug users, the investigators said the drug is so potent and addicting that the paranoia and violent side effects come from when they are beginning to become sober.

With the drug becoming more and more popular, many police departments around Minnesota were sought help of the Winona County Sheriff’s department.

“When it first started, we had task force guys coming over from Rochester, Olmsted County, Goodhue County, Dodge County, Houston County and they didn’t know what this stuff was,” investigators said. “They got educated through us.”

With plant food and bath salts becoming more prevalent, Senator Jeremy Miller, a Winona resident, proposed a bill in legislature in 2010 to make it a schedule one controlled substance.

The bill passed in July 2011.

“Luckily enough, Senator Miller is from Winona, so he could see this stuff and hear about it,” Investigators said. “So we had a representative from Winona kinda push this. When you get up to the state, it pops up a little bit in some places, but they don’t seem to see it as regularly as we did.”


With plant food and bath salts now illegal, calls plummeted significantly, with people being afraid to seek help due to legal repercussions.

Even worse, a new hybrid emerged, turbo or Alpha-PVP, giving its users an even more intense high.

The Minnesota legislature was able to add language to the bill, giving officers the ability to arrest people for Alpha-PVP in July 2012, a year after the initial bill passed.

The investigators wanted to express how Winona isn’t necessarily a drug-ridden town, but rather is primarily dealing with turbo more than any other city.

Around the country, heroin has quadrupled in deaths according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention from 2002 to 2013 with 8,200 deaths. In Winona, the investigators said they rarely ever see heroin.

“We don’t see very much of heroin in Winona,” Investigators said. “Last year, I think we seized heroin on two separate occasions. The rest of the time we’re having the synthetic drugs.”

One of the biggest issues facing the Winona County Sheriff’s department is the small penalty facing turbo offenders.

“If I arrest someone with a tenth of gram of plant food or two kilograms of plant food, it’s the same charge,” investigators said. “That’s where we’d like to see some change.”

The investigators said they want to go after the dealers, the people who are moving it. They have found evidence that the drugs are being shipped from China into the United States, where it’s distributed throughout the country.

The penalty

If caught with turbo in the state of Minnesota, a person could face five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. For a second offense, it’s six months in a prison with fines increasing to 10 years and $10,000.

While this penalty seems harsh, in reality, it’s not, according to the investigators. The drug charge is a felony fifth-degree drug charge, which is the lowest possible charge someone can receive.

According to the investigators, any kind of change doesn’t look any closer than it did when the first law passed in 2011.

“I don’t know if it’s any closer,” Investigators said. “The efforts been local and pushing it locally, but I think the thing that kind of hampers us here, whenever someone hears about this at the state level, they keep referring to Duluth.”

Student Outreach

Winona County does have the D.A.R.E program for students. The investigators make routine stops in schools in the county to talk about drugs, including Alpha-PVP.

“They have us in a health class every semester or quarter,” investigators said. “We talk about the danger of methamphetamine and marijuana. We do a drug education.”

Why Winona?

In 2015, the Southeast Violent Crime Enforcement Team seized 2,162 grams of synthetic drugs, including turbo.

The investigators said turbo is bought in “point” form or a tenth of a gram, valued usually at $30 a point.

With that number, the SVCET seized $64,860 worth of synthetic drugs alone last year.

The police of Winona County continue to deal with turbo, trying hard to locate exactly where the drugs are being made and who the distributors are.

“There’s no answer for it,” investigators said. “There’s a supply around here somewhere.”

The investigators have received calls from around the Midwest, with officers and even a concerned parent from Kansas City wondering what turbo is.

“I had one lady call from Kansas City once and said my daughter is on turbo, or I think it was plant food at the time,” investigators said. “She researched it and it came back to Winona and the issues we had here. The police officers out there had no idea what it was and had never heard of it.”

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