Seven Valley residents were among 90 people arrested during a national crackdown on the designer-drug industry that sells "spice" and "bath salts" and is blamed for increases in poisoning cases and hospital admissions.
Federal and local authorities executed 17 search warrants in Maricopa County that targeted manufacturers, smoke shops and individuals believed to be responsible for making or selling simulated cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Phoenix field office.
"This operation has disrupted the entire nationwide synthetic designer-drug industry, from manufacturers and distributors to retailers,'' Coleman said Thursday. "We will continue to use all the tools available to us to bring to justice those who peddle these poisons and harm our society."
In Arizona, more than $3million in assets, 3,322 pounds of synthetic cannabinoids (spice), and 733 pounds of synthetic cathinones (bath salts) were seized along with 13 firearms and 12 vehicles.
Called Operation Log Jam, the raids were conducted by the DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with assistance by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and local and state agencies.
The crackdown comes despite state legislative efforts and federal bans that have failed to stop the sale and use of the drugs and amid reports of dramatic increases in emergency-room admissions and poisoning cases, Coleman said.
National bath-salts-related poisoning cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers jumped to 6,000 in 2011 from about 300 in 2010, said Stephanie Siete, education director for Community Bridges in Mesa.
"People are playing roulette with this stuff by altering the chemicals," Siete said. "They don't even know what they are going to get when they take the drug."
The number of patients seeking help in emergency rooms is also on the rise, increasing from more than 10,000 last year from about 300 three years ago, said Coleman.
Bath salts can cause death, hallucinations and violent behavior inusers whose body cores heat up as high as 108 degrees, Arizona emergency-room doctors have reported
Last week, Tempe police warned about the danger of bath salts after arresting two men, one who they say ran naked through a neighborhood and another who they say crashed his vehicle into an apartment-complex gate
"This is a very serious and dangerous thing," said Tempe police Sgt. Jeffrey Glover.
Makers of the toxic concoctions have stayed one step ahead of federal bans and legislation by tweaking the molecules to create a similar but legal designer drug that retailers sell for as little as $10 a packet, authorities say.
by Laurie Merrill and Lesley Marin - Jul. 26, 2012 10:03 PM
The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team
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