US Law Enforcement Begins Major Crackdown of Synthetic Drugs

As posted on Teen Talk in July 2011 and January 2011 the rise in the popularity of synthetic marijuana and bath salts, has increased immensely over the last year and has brought with it troubling stories of the affects the drugs have on users.

These synthetic drugs are typically sold over-the-counter as “legal highs” in head shops, convenience stores and gas stations in packets with various brands, including Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky. Each specific product is sold until their particular ingredients are banned; to get around bans, sometimes new ingredients are simply introduced under the same brand name. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed a law banning two dozen of the most common bath salt drugs, but experts estimate that there are at least 100 different bath salt chemicals currently in circulation.

This past week the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) successfully arrested 90 people and seized a massive amount of synthetic marijuana and bath salts as part of the first-ever nationwide crackdown on disgusting weird “designer drugs.” Called “Operation Logjam,” the joint investigation between the DEA and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) netted $36 million in cash, more than 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids (a.k.a. K2, Spice), as well as 167,000 packets of synthetic cathinones (a.k.a. bath salts). Investigators also seized a mountain of ingredients that could be used to make the crap.

Unlike other drugs that are enforced by the DEA, “synthetics” are a difficult sub-species of  narcotics. Many of the ingredients in these drugs are not defined as illegal, which is why they can be sold over the counter. Trying to ban them all has become a giant game of whack-a-mole. As the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, told the Associated Press, “The moment you start to regulate one of them, they’ll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent.”

Also, because of their relative newness little is known about the effects of the new synthetic drugs, not even in the short term. Drugs like alcohol, marijuana, heroin, amphetamine and cocaine have been studied for decades, and we know a great deal about how to treat medical problems associated with them. Some have lengthy histories of medical use, and alcohol and marijuana specifically are known to have been taken by humans for thousands of years. But none of the synthetics on the market have ever been tested on humans. Their use has been associated in the media with bizarre and violent behavior, but no one really knows how they affect the brain or whether these widely cited effects relate to the drug’s specific pharmacology. The drugs’ lethal dose isn’t known. Nor is the best — or any — way of treating overdose. Their effects on pregnancy? Unknown. On psychiatric disorders? Unknown. Their long-term dangers or risk of addiction? Again, we have no information.

In 2011 the American Association of Poison Control Centers received more than 6,100 calls about bath salt drugs in 2011 — up from 304 in 2010 — and more than 1,700 calls in the first half of 2012. Sixty percent of the cases involved patients 25 and younger. The production of a wide spectrum of synthetic drugs makes them very dangerous as it becomes almost impossible to know what people have ingested or how long the effects will last.

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