In the first-ever nationwide crackdown on the synthetic drug industry, law enforcement officers arrested more than 90 people, seized $36 million in cash and more than 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids Wednesday, authorities said.
Agents also confiscated material to make 13.6 million more packets and 167,000 packets of synthetic hallucinogens, more commonly known as bath salts. In addition, materials to make 392,000 more packets of bath salts were seized.
Operation Log Jam, a joint effort between the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal and local agencies, was conducted in more than 90 cities spanning 30 states, DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said at a news conference Thursday.
She said the raids included 29 manufacturing facilities at every level of the industry, from small-scale operations to large warehouses.
"The web of connections between the suppliers and the distributors and the retailers is enormous and it's complex," she said.
Fifty-three weapons and $6 million in assets were also seized during the operation.
"We also found a number of people involved that are new to the drug business and have now been able to make connections with some of these more seasoned traffickers, and over 70 cases that DEA brought to the table, finding connections between them at all levels," Leonhart said.
In addition to the raids, criminal investigation specialists with the Internal Revenue Service followed the money trail between the parties involved.
"The major goal is to document the movement of money during the course of the crime, link between where the money comes from, who gets this," said Richard Weber, IRS Chief of Criminal Investigation.
Tobacco, smoke shops and adult stores cooperated with the Department of Homeland Security, said James Chaparro, acting director of ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations.
Law enforcement officers in West Palm Beach, Fla. arrested three men involved with Kratom Labs, the maker of the drug, “Mr. Nice Guy.” NBC station WPTV reported. The station reported the drug is labeled as incense and was distributed throughout the country.
The owner of a store and warehouse in New York State was arrested after authorities swept in and seized synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic amphetamines that mimic the affects of marijuana and meth.
Officers said they had warrants to seize $400,000 of the man’s funds.
Authorities looked at mail facilities that are used by traffickers to ship chemicals internationally and domestically.
"The more we can keep it out of the country, the more we can protect public safety," Chaparro said.
Synthetic drugs, some known as bath salts, K-2, Spice and Vanilla Sky, have been deceptively marketed to young people, causing health problems and even death, Leonhart said.
"What's troubling is they're marketing to young people, young people have an outlet at these smoke shops, these retail outlets," she said.
Many of the drugs have a disclaimer warning against human consumption, but Leonhart said that's just a way to cover up the danger they pose.
"So little know about these substances, because of the dangers, you've seen the headlines, people who have committed murders, suicide, those calls to poison control."
She told reporters the problem of synthetic drug use is a bigger problem than most people think.
"I put it up there with prescription drugs because they're emerging problems," she said.
Officials said calls to poison controls centers involving synthetic drugs in the last year have increased twenty-fold.
Chaparro said the problems with these drugs aren't limited to the U.S.
Earlier this month, President Barrack Obama signed a bill that banned the sale, production and possession of some chemicals used for making many types of synthetic drugs. The bill added 15 synthetic drugs to the Controlled Substances Act.
Synthetic drugs were initially thought to be a factor in an infamous case in Miami in May, when a naked man was fatally shot while chewing the face of a homeless man. But toxicology tests found he had only marijuana in his system.
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