The raids involved more than 45 DEA offices and nearly 200 search warrants were executed nation-wide beginning early Wednesday in states including Maryland, West Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Florida, and New Mexico.
Agents arrested more than 150 people and seized hundreds of thousands of individually packaged synthetic drugs, hundreds of kilograms of raw product and more than $20 million in cash and assets, according to a press release.
“Many who manufacture, distribute and sell these dangerous synthetic drugs found out first hand today that DEA will target, find and prosecute those who have committed these crimes,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart in a statement.
Just this week in Texas, synthetic marijuana called K2 was blamed for nearly 120 overdoses in Austin and Dallas, which police believe were linked to the same Dallas supplier.
Synthetic drugs are a fairly new entrant onto the drug scene; the first seizure of synthetic pot in the U.S. came in 2008.
Users tend to assume the drugs are legal and safer. But in reality, they tend to be unpredictable because potency levels vary, and they can also be laced with other substances. The negative health effects can be severe, including seizures, loss of consciousness, vomiting, panic attacks and hallucination.
Last year, the D.C. government launched an anti-K2 ad campaign aimed at teens, which equated the potential side effects of the drug with becoming a “zombie.”
Congress has already regulated 26 synthetic drug combinations but it is difficult for the law to keep up with the ever-changing combination of substances. And manufacturers are known to sell the drugs over the counter by labeling them “not for human consumption” in order to skirt Food and Drug Administration regulations.
In a related action today, the Treasury Department also announced the first every designation of synthetic drug traffickers as kingpins under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Daniel and Kevin Louie, a father and son duo who are Canadian nationals, are accused of running a company, Source1herbs, which sells and ships synthetic drugs domestically an internationally. According to Treasury, they frequently find new chemical formulations for the drugs and mislabel them with “not for human consumption” in order to skirt regulations. Two other associates were also named as kingpins today.
The designation allows Treasury to block all of the Louie family’s property and interests in the United States and people in the U.S. are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. Violations of the Kingpin Act carry stiff criminal and civil penalties including prison time and fines of up to $10 million for corporate entities.
“The synthetics drug industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that looks to circumvent U.S. and other nations’ drug laws,” said Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Adam Szubin. “As the first designation targeting a synthetic drug trafficking organization under the Kingpin Act, today’s action underscores that Kingpin Act sanctions go beyond traditional narcotics trafficking organizations. Treasury will build on this action and continue to target such groups vigorously.”
In the last five years alone, more than 200 new synthetic drugs have been identified, the vast majority, DEA believes, were manufactured in China.