Federal agents have arrested 90 people across the U.S. in a major bust of synthetic drugs in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s first major takedown of the designer-drug industry. The haul also seized more than 5 million packets of the fake marijuana stand-ins K2 and Spice and more than 167,000 packets of “bath salts” — once thought to be the influencing factor of Miami’s “face-eating zombie” back in May. More than $36 million in cash across 109 cities was also confiscated, the agency said in a statement released Thursday, July 26.
The agents also took enough materials to create more than 392,000 additional packets of bath salts — also known under the chemical name synthetic cathinones — which are are said by researchers to be designed to mimic the effects of cocaine.
Several government law-enforcement agencies, including the DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, launched Operation Log Jam to bust smoke shops and other retailers that have been connected to hallucinogenic episodes and deaths of users. In 2010, officials say, poison centers responded to 3,200 calls linked to bath salts and Spice. Responses increased the next year to more than 13,000 calls; 60% were for patients age 25 and younger.
“Today, we struck a huge blow to the synthetic-drug industry. The criminal organizations behind the importation, distribution and selling of these synthetic drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits,” said James Chaparro, acting director of ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations.
Sold as a legal alternative to illicit street drugs, synthetics are purchased at smoke shops, neighborhood stores and even gas stations. Although many designer drugs are not illegal under federal drug laws, they can still be looked upon by law enforcement in the same fashion as a controlled substance if they are proved to have the same chemical or pharmacological makeup, according to the DEA. In addition, President Obama recently signed a bill banning two dozen of the compounds used to make the drugs.