Houston at center of major synthetic drug bust

DEA agents raided a facility in Houston and found more than $5 million worth of illegal synthetic drugs. Photo: . / HC

A covert Houston operation was at the center of a designer drug industry bust orchestrated by federal agents that resulted in the arrests of 90 people nationwide and the seizure of millions of packets of illegal synthetic drugs, sources close to the investigation told the Houston Chronicle.

Authorities in Houston raided a secret laboratory and local stores that were selling the synthetic drugs.

More than $36 million also was confiscated across 109 cities in the United States as part of the production and sale of what’s often marketed as bath salts, spice, incense, or plant food, according to an announcement Thursday made from Washington D.C.

“This was an actual manufacturer and distribution lab that was supplying Houston and the rest of the country,” DEA Houston chief Javier Pena said.

Pena said agents found more than 250,000 packages ready for distribution that contained one to five grams in each package. Agents said the loot was worth an estimated $5 million.

“This is major,” Pena said. “We were not expecting this.”

Pena said the location, which was in the Houston area, was used to mix the drug together and package it for distribution.

So-called bath salts mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine and were recently made illegal in the United States.

“Although tremendous progress has been made in legislating and scheduling these dangerous substances, this enforcement action has disrupted the entire illegal industry, from manufacturers to retailers,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Together with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we are committed to targeting these new and emerging drugs with every scientific, legislative, and investigative tool at our disposal.”

Over the past several years, there has been a growing use of, and interest in, synthetic cathinones (stimulants/hallucinogens) sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food.”

Marketed under names such as “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Vanilla Sky” or “Bliss,” these products are comprised of a class of dangerous substances. Users have reported impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, and violent episodes. The long-term physical and psychological effects of use are unknown but potentially severe.

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