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New Orleans Field Division Takes Down Designer Synthetic Drug Market in the Deep South

MAY 07 (NEW ORLEANS) – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other federal, state, and local law enforcement partners announce the culmination of Project Synergy Phase II, an ongoing effort targeting every level of the dangerous global designer synthetic drug market.  Since January and leading up to May 7, 2014, nationwide enforcement operations took place targeting these drug trafficking organizations that have operated in communities across the country. This second phase of Project Synergy involved 29 states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and more than 45 DEA offices. On May 7th, nearly 200 search warrants were executed nationwide. As of this date nationwide, more than 150 individuals have been arrested and federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities have seized hundreds of thousands of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs as well as hundreds of kilograms of raw synthetic products to make thousands more. Additionally, more than $20 million in cash and assets were seized. These numbers are expected to grow as these investigations continue.

Image: Synthetic drugs seized in Alabama as part of Project Synergy. Large amounts of money and designer synthetic drugs seized in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Synthetic drugs seized in Alabama as part of Project Synergy. Large amounts of money and designer synthetic drugs seized in Gulfport, Mississippi.

In the New Orleans Field Division, DEA partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, along with over 35 state, local and federal law enforcement agencies in Alabama as part of this national synthetic drug takedown resulting in more than 38 arrests and the seizure of over 200 pounds of synthetic drugs, $500,000 in cash and bank accounts, and 19 guns.  In Mississippi, DEA made two arrests and seized over 200 pounds of synthetic drugs, $265,000 in cash, four guns, and two vehicles. In Louisiana, DEA made six arrests and seized a kilogram quantity of synthetic drugs, $75,000 in cash, and one gun.

“The manufacture, sale, and abuse of synthetic drugs represents a clear danger to our society. These synthetic substances are designed and manufactured with no controls on the safety of the substance, and no goal other than generating a more powerful high for the user and a larger profit for the individuals and organizations manufacturing and selling these highly dangerous drugs. People who use Spice and other synthetics risk death at the hands of unknown, powerful chemicals that are generally produced in foreign labs with no thought for safety and the potential negative effects produced by these substances,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Keith Brown. “This investigation, combining the resources of the DEA, the State of Alabama, and our partners from dozens of local law enforcement agencies, should demonstrate to the citizens of Alabama that we as a society will not sit idly by while our young people are poisoned in the name of profit.”

“Alabamians should know that synthetic drugs are dangerous to their health, and as Governor, I am going to do everything I can to rid Alabama of these drugs,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “I appreciate the partnership with our federal, state and local law enforcement officers to confiscate synthetic drugs in Alabama.”

“Today’s events represent the culmination of months of teamwork between state, local, and federal partners,” said Secretary Spencer Collier. “Synthetic drugs are a rising problem in Alabama and in the nation. I am proud that Alabama has led the nation in passing comprehensive legislation to combat this problem. ALEA will continue to work with our local and federal partners to disrupt the production and distribution of synthetic drugs.”

In addition to targeting retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers, many of these investigations continued to uncover the massive flow of drug-related proceeds to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Investigations also targeted many trade implements such as organic leaves and packaging material used in preparation for drug re-sale and distribution. These facilitators are key players in this ever-changing designer drug industry.

Communities, families, and individuals across the United States have experienced the scourge of designer synthetic drugs, which are often marketed as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, or plant food. These dangerous drugs have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency room visits. Those who have abused synthetic drugs have suffered vomiting, anxiety, agitation, irritability, seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. They have caused significant organ damage as well as overdose deaths. Over the past five years, DEA has identified between 200 and 300 new designer drugs from eight different structural classes, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China.

While many of the designer drugs being marketed today that were seized as part of Project Synergy are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 (CSAEA) allows many of these drugs to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance.  Synthetic drug cases prosecuted under this analogue provision have grown steadily in recent years as this problem has evolved. It has proven to be an effective tool to combat these new and emerging designer drugs.

DEA has used its emergency scheduling authority to combat both synthetic cathinones (the so-called “bath salts” with names like Ivory Wave, etc.) and synthetic cannabinoids (the so-called incense products like K2, Spice, etc.), temporarily placing several of these dangerous chemicals into Schedule I of the CSA. Congress has also acted, permanently placing 26 substances into Schedule I of the CSA in 2012.     

More information about synthetic designer drugs can be found on the Drug Fact Sheets at http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/index.html  
B-roll from Project Synergy Phase II is available at: http://dvidshub.net/r/ff5tjb
Previous B-roll from Project Synergy Phase I (June 2013) is available at: http://www.dvidshub.net/video/294719/cbp-dea-project-synergy-b-roll#.U2pFq3b6-So
Parents and children are encouraged to educate themselves about the dangers of drugs by visiting DEA’s interactive websites at www.JustThinkTwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com and www.dea.gov.


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