DEA Targets Synthetic Drugs in Two Dozen States

By Paul Gaita 05/09/14

Growing concern over synthetics like bath salts and spice has led U.S. law enforcement to launch a full-scale assault across the country.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration launched a full-scale assault against the synthetic drug market this week by issuing hundreds of search and warrant arrests to individuals and retailers.

On May 7, agents from the DEA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection carried out the campaign on a reported 66 cases that targeted homes, warehouses, and smoke shops in 25 states. The largest of these operations took place as a statewide effort across Alabama, though Florida and New Mexico were also the focus of major investigations.

Synthetic drugs like bath salts, Molly, and synthetic marijuana have been in the DEA’s crosshairs since they began to gain widespread popularity in the last few years. The negative health effects of these substances, which range from deep sedation to symptoms of psychosis, prompted the DEA to declare synthetic cathinones – the technical name for bath salts – and five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana as Schedule I class drugs. However, manufacturers have dodged the ban by changing the formula of their product.

U.S. law enforcement officials hope that these operations will offer a solid connection to not only chemical manufacturers in China where synthetic drug companies acquire their ingredients, but also criminal efforts around the world. Agents have traced millions of dollars in drug money to countries in the Middle East, including Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, where they believe that drug trafficking funds terrorist organizations. “The money is going there, [but] where it stops, we don’t know,” said DEA Special Operations Division staff coordinator Ferdinand Large.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.