ICE participates in nationwide synthetic drug takedown


ICE participates in nationwide synthetic drug takedown

 

WASHINGTON – More than 90 individuals were arrested and approximately five million packets of finished designer synthetic drugs were seized in the first-ever nationwide law enforcement action against the synthetic designer drug industry responsible for the production and sale of synthetic drugs that are often marketed as bath salts, Spice, incense, or plant food. More than $36 million in cash was also seized.

As of today, more than 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids (K2, Spice) and the products to produce nearly 13.6 million more, as well as 167,000 packets of synthetic cathinones (bath salts), and the products to produce an additional 392,000 were seized.

Operation Log Jam was conducted jointly by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with assistance from the IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, as well as state and local law enforcement members in more than 109 U.S. cities and targeted every level of the synthetic designer drug industry, including retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers.

“Today, we struck a huge blow to the synthetic drug industry. The criminal organizations behind the importation, distribution and selling of these synthetic drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits,” said Acting Director of ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations James Chaparro. “ICE is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring this industry to its knees.”

“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.”

“The synthetic drug industry is an emerging area where we can leverage our financial investigative expertise to trace the path of illicit drug proceeds by identifying the financial linkages among the various co-conspirators,” said Richard Weber, chief, IRS Criminal Investigation. “We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to disrupt and ultimately dismantle the highest level drug trafficking and drug money laundering organizations that pose the greatest threat to Americans and American interests.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service aggressively investigates the use of the U.S. Mail system for the distribution of illegal controlled substances and its proceeds. Our agency uses a multi-tiered approach to these crimes: protection against the use of the mail for illegal purposes and enforcement of laws against drug trafficking and money laundering. This includes collaboration with other agencies,” said Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell.

“The mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is to guard our country’s borders from people and goods that could harm our way of life,” said Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar. “We are proud to be part of an operation that disrupts the flow of synthetic drugs into the country and out of the hands of the American people.”

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 perceived to mimic cocaine, LSD, MDMA and/or methamphetamine. 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.

These products have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults and those who mistakenly believe they can bypass the drug testing protocols that have been set up by employers and government agencies to protect public safety. They are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. However, they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.

Smokable herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high have also become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, because they are easily available and, in many cases, they are more potent and dangerous than marijuana. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Just as with the synthetic cathinones, synthetic cannabinoids are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet. Brands such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.

While many of the designer drugs being marketed today that were seized as part of Operation Log Jam are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 (AEA) allows 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. A number of cases that are part of Operation Log Jam will be prosecuted federally under this analogue provision, which specifically exists 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 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 2010, poison centers nationwide responded to about 3,200 calls related to synthetic “Spice” and “bath salts.” In 2011, that number jumped to more than 13,000 calls. Sixty percent of the cases involved patients 25 and younger

INFO FROM http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1207/120726washingtondc.htm

Bath salts may be as addictive as cocaine


Recreational drugs called bath salts, which have gained popularity recently and have been in the news for their bizarre effects on users, have the potential for abuse and addiction, similar to that of cocaine.

Bath salts, which, despite their name, have no use in the tub, are different variations of the compound called cathinone, an alkaloid that comes from the khat plant. Currently, 42 U.S. states have laws banning many substituted cathinones. Mephedrone is one of the most common derivatives of cathinone and was listed federally in October 2011 on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act for one year, pending further study. Then on July 9, 2012, President Barack Obama signed a law placing bath salts containing mephedrone or the stimulant MDPV onto the controlled substances list.

The drugs can cause a laundry list of body and mind changes, including dizziness, delusions, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, seizures, nausea, vomiting and even death.

In the study, Malanga and his colleagues trained mice to spin a wheel to receive a reward. In this case, the reward was direct stimulation of a brain circuit involved in reward perception. The electrical stimulation came from electrodes implanted into the mice’s brains.

“These are tiny, tiny currents at the very tip of a tiny, tiny electrode, delivering the current to very specific and discrete brain circuits,” said Dr. C.J. Malanga, an associate professor of neurology, pediatrics and psychology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Called intracranial self-stimulation, the method has been used since the 1950s to look at whether drugs activate reward areas of the brain. The thinking goes that when the electrical stimulation is intense enough for the mice to perceive it as rewarding, these mice will work hard to spin the wheel and get more of that reward. “If you let them, an animal will work to deliver self-stimulation to the exclusion of everything else — it won’t eat, it won’t sleep,” Malanga told LiveScience. [10 Easy Paths to Self Destruction]

During the study, the researchers measured wheel-spinning effort before, during and after the implanted mice received various doses of either mephedrone or cocaine.

“All drugs of abuse, regardless of how they act in the brain — heroin, morphine, cocaine amphetamine, alcohol, do the same thing to ICSS, they increase its rewarding value,” Malanga said. So for a lower electrical stimulation, one that wasn’t considered rewarding previously, the mice drugged with cocaine, say, would then be willing to spin the wheel.

It turned out that mephedrone had the same reward potency as cocaine, causing the mice to work for the reward at lower stimulations.

The study results, published online June 21 in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, suggest mephedrone and similar drugs have significant addiction potential, supporting the recent ban on the sale of bath salts in the United States, signed on July 9, Malanga said.

Authorities Confiscated Spice, ‘Bath Salts’ Assorted Paraphernalia and Weapons from Maple Valley Tobacco Shop



The King County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday that detectives seized more than one-and-a-half pounds of ‘spice,’ a small amount of ‘bath salts’ and numerous other drug paraphernalia as well as illegal weapons from a Maple Valley tobacco store.

The search of Tobacco Depot on the 26900 block of Maple Valley/Black Diamond Road on July 12 was the culmination of an eight-month long investigation into complaints of unlawful activity at the store, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release.

The driver for the investigation was the reported sale of ‘spice’ at the location. ‘Spice’ is a synthetic marijuana product that consists of green vegetation that resembles marijuana which is then coated in chemicals that mimic the euphoric effects of marijuana when it is smoked. The product is often marketed as ‘potpourri,’ said the Sheriff’s Office.

In December of 2011, the active chemicals in ‘spice’ were categorized as Schedule I controlled substances. According to the DEA, Schedule I substances “have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”

Other substances in this category include heroine, LSD, marijuana, peyote, and ‘ecstacy.’

During the investigation detectives also discovered that the owner of the business was selling illegal weapons such as brass knuckles, butterfly knives and nun-chucks.

In addition to selling illegal weapons the suspect was also selling glass “crack pipes” and glass pipes and bongs commonly used to smoke marijuana.  These pipes are used for the ingestion of crack cocaine or methamphetamine.

Maple Valley Municipal Code (MVMC 9.05.240) makes it illegal to sell drug paraphernalia unless proper signage is posted indicating that such items are for sale in the business, and that persons under the age of 18 are not allowed inside unless accompanied by a parent.  These legible signs did not exist at the business.

During the service of the warrant, detectives found hundreds of crack pipes, thousands of 1”x1” baggies (commonly used to package drugs for sale), nitrous oxide containers (over 1300 individual doses) and small inhalers used to ingest nitrous oxide (commonly called “whippits”).

Detectives also confiscated a number of illegal weapons including 10 sets of nun-chucks, 20 sets of metal knuckles, 1 set of electrified metal knuckles, and 3 butterfly knives.

On the Plateau, the Foothills Healthy Community Coalition (FHCC) is currently working collaboratively with area agencies to develop a community action plan and to initiate a preventative substance use program. Many of the substances seized during this search are among what experts say are prevalent in this area. For more information on the FHCC, you can contact Heather Hogan, the youth substance abuse prevention specialist at 360-802-3206 or heatherh@enumclawrhf.org. The FHCC is supported in part by the Enumclaw Regional Healthcare Foundation.

DrugFacts: Spice (Synthetic Marijuana)


“Spice” refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as “safe,” legal alternatives to that drug. Sold under many names, including K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and others—and labeled “not for human consumption”—these products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive (mind-altering) effects.

False Advertising

Labels on Spice products often claim that they contain “natural” psycho-active material taken from a variety of plants. Spice products do contain dried plant material, but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic (or designer) cannabinoid compounds.

For several years, Spice mixtures have been easy to purchase in head shops and gas stations and via the Internet. Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has designated the five active chemicals most frequently found in Spice as Schedule I controlled substances, making it illegal to sell, buy, or possess them. Manufacturers of Spice products attempt to evade these legal restrictions by substituting different chemicals in their mixtures, while the DEA continues to monitor the situation and evaluate the need for updating the list of banned cannabinoids.

Spice products are popular among young people; of the illicit drugs most used by high-school seniors, they are second only to marijuana. Easy access and the misperception that Spice products are “natural” and therefore harmless have likely contributed to their popularity. Another selling point is that the chemicals used in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests.

A graph showing Past-Year Use of Illicit Drugs by High School Seniors: Marijuana/Hashish 36.4%, Spice 11.4%, MDMA 5.3%, Hallucinogens 5.2%, Cocaine 2.9%. SOURCE: University of Michigan, 2011 Monitoring the Future Study

How Is Spice Abused?

Some Spice products are sold as “incense,” but they more closely resemble potpourri. Like marijuana, Spice is abused mainly by smoking. Sometimes Spice is mixed with marijuana or is prepared as an herbal infusion for drinking.

Image of K2, a popular brand of “Spice” mixture.K2, a popular brand of “Spice” mixture.

How Does Spice Affect the Brain?

Spice users report experiences similar to those produced by marijuana—elevated mood, relaxation, and altered perception—and in some cases the effects are even stronger than those of marijuana. Some users report psychotic effects like extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.

So far, there have been no scientific studies of Spice’s effects on the human brain, but we do know that the cannabinoid compounds found in Spice products act on the same cell receptors as THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. Some of the compounds found in Spice, however, bind more strongly to those receptors, which could lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effect. Because the chemical composition of many products sold as Spice is unknown, it is likely that some varieties also contain substances that could cause dramatically different effects than the user might expect.

What Are the Other Health Effects of Spice?

Spice abusers who have been taken to Poison Control Centers report symptoms that include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Spice can also raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart (myocardial ischemia), and in a few cases it has been associated with heart attacks. Regular users may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms.

We still do not know all the ways Spice may affect human health or how toxic it may be, but one public health concern is that there may be harmful heavy metal residues in Spice mixtures. Without further analyses, it is difficult to determine whether this concern is justified.

Synthetic Stimulants Called ‘Bath Salts’ Act in the Brain Like Cocaine


ScienceDaily REPORTS –

The use of the synthetic stimulants collectively known as “bath salts” have gained popularity among recreational drug users over the last five years, largely because they were readily available and unrestricted via the Internet and at convenience stores, and were virtually unregulated.

 

In October 2011, the US Drug Enforcement Administration placed mephedrone on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act for one year, pending further study. Now, results of a new study offer compelling evidence for the first time that mephedrone, like cocaine, does have potential for abuse and addiction. (Credit: US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA))

Recent studies point to compulsive drug taking among bath salts users, and several deaths have been blamed on the bath salt mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone or “meow-meow”). This has led several countries to ban the production, possession, and sale of mephedrone and other cathinone derivative drugs.

In October 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration placed mephedrone on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act for one year, pending further study. “Basically, the DEA was saying we don’t know enough about these drugs to know how potentially dangerous they could be, so we’re going to make them maximally restricted, gather more data, and then come to a more reasoned decision as to how we should classify these compounds,” said C.J. Malanga, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology, pediatrics and psychology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He is also a member of the UNC’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies.

Now, results of a new study led by Malanga offer compelling evidence for the first time that mephedrone, like cocaine, does have potential for abuse and addiction. “The effects of mephedrone on the brain’s reward circuits are comparable to similar doses of cocaine,” he said. “As expected our research shows that mephedrone likely has significant abuse liability.”

A report of the study was published online on June 21, 2012 by the journal Behavioural Brain Research. The report’s first author and MD/PhD student at UNC J. Elliott Robinson points out that mephedrone and other potentially addictive stimulants “inappropriately activate brain reward circuits that are involved in positive reinforcement. These play a role in the drug ‘high’ and compulsive drug taking.”

The study of laboratory mice used intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS), a technique developed in the 1950s that can measure a drug’s ability to activate reward circuits. In ICSS studies, animals are trained to perform a behavioral task (pressing a lever or a button with their nose or, as in this study, spinning a wheel) to receive a reward: direct stimulation of the brain pathways involved in reward perception.

During the study, adult animals were implanted with brain stimulating electrodes. Measures of their wheel spinning effort were made before, during and after they received various doses of either mephedrone or cocaine.

“One of the unique features of ICSS is that all drugs of abuse, regardless of how they work pharmacologically, do very similar things to ICSS: they make ICSS more rewarding,” Malanga said. “Animals work harder to get less of it [ICSS] when we give them these drugs.”

Indeed, as was expected, cocaine increased the ability of mice to be rewarded by self-stimulation. “And what we found, which is new, is that mephedrone does the same thing. It increases the rewarding potency of ICSS just like cocaine does. ”

Malanga said the study supports the idea that mephedrone and drugs like it may have significant addiction potential, “and justifies the recent legislation to maintain maximum restriction to their access by the Food and Drug Administration.” On July 9 President Obama signed into law legislation passed by Congress to permanently ban the sale of bath salts in the U.S.

Along with Malanga and Robinson, other UNC co-authors are Abigail E. Agoglia, Eric W. Fish, and Michael E. Krouse.

Support for the research comes from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which are components of the National Institutes of Health.

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