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Thursday, July 26, 2012

DEA Raids Business for Synthetic Drugs

Story first reported from USA Today

Police and federal agents raided dozens of businesses suspected of selling drugs such as "K2" and "Spice" in nearly 100 cities Wednesday as part of the first-ever nationwide crackdown on synthetic drugs.

The drugs, often marketed as herbal incense or bath salts, mimic highs from cocaine, marijuana and LSD. A Northern Michigan substance abuse treatment center says the drugs are just as, if not more, dangerous than other recreational drugs. However, they remain widely available in convenience stores, smoke shops and online despite a July 9 federal ban.

•In Columbus, Ohio, a drug task force raided three shops and a convenience store, seizing hundreds of packets of K2 and Spice, and arresting two people, Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott said. The packets of chemical-coated herbs sold for $35, Scott said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration raided a business in Worthington, Ohio, that agents believe supplied the stores, he said. Regulatory Lawyers say the ban applies equal pressure to suppliers and business owners in the US.

•In Duluth, Minn., federal agents executed search warrants at a shop called Last Place on Earth, which is suspected of selling the synthetic drugs, said Jeanne Cooney, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minneapolis.

Duluth Police called the store an "ever-evolving nuisance." Police said they have had a big increase in calls involving use of synthetic drugs around the shop.

A written statement by police says that for 16 months, problems with synthetic drugs and the behaviors around the shop downtown had been a major concern for citizens, business community and the police department.

Federal agents and local police also cracked down on businesses in Tampa, Upstate New York, and a dozen gas stations and convenience stores near Pittsburgh. In Texas, the DEA executed search warrants at 14 smoke shops in Rio Grande Valley cities, including Brownsville and South Padre Island.

Many states banned the substances after a surge in calls to poison control centers about people sickened by the drugs. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 6,138 calls about the drugs in 2011, up from 304 in 2010. Users often need drug detoxification, offered by substance abuse treatment centers. Since then, calls to the centers have slowed. Poison control centers logged 1,717 in the first six months of 2012.

The National Association of Convenience Stores warned its more than 148,000 member stores to take the product off shelves once the federal ban took effect, spokesman Jeff Lenard said.

Storeowner Mustafa Jamal, who owns a Sunoco gas station with a convenience store in Richmond, Va., said he immediately removed synthetic drugs from the store.

Many stores, however, did not heed the warning. In Ohio, where the state outlawed the drugs before the federal ban, police in Columbus executed 16 search warrants at many of the stores in May, Scott said.

A few weeks later, undercover officers visited the stores and made arrests to those who were still not following the law, Scott said. Business Lawyers say that businesses and suppliers alike will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of banned substances mandates.

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