Washington County vendors are focus of synthetic drugs raid

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on Wednesday raided nine retail establishments in the Washington County area, cracking down on the sale of what police characterized as “extremely dangerous” synthetic drugs, including bath salts and a man-made drug called K2.

“There’s a lot of work being done right now,” said state Police Trooper Joe Christy. “There’s a lot of evidence that’s being seized and catalogued.”

Trooper Christy said search warrants were served throughout the day at various local convenience stores and retailers, which were selling the drugs as a form of “herbal incense.” No arrests were made, but more warrants are expected to be sought and served in the next few days, Trooper Christy said, and the investigation will continue.

The joint undercover investigation began two months ago when law enforcement began seeing a rise in the availability and use of synthetic drugs, Trooper Christy said.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of people using them and/or the ill effects from them,” including serious health problems, he said.

The raids reflected growing concern nationwide over the traffic of the compound, also known by the names “K2” or “Spice,” which has a marijuana-like effect on the brain.

The agencies included the state police; the Washington and Canonsburg police departments; the Washington County Drug Task Force; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; U.S. postal inspectors; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Trooper Christy said the items were packaged “not for human consumption,” but were nonetheless being smoked by people to get high.

Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone said compounds in the drugs can cause respiratory injuries, paranoia, vomiting and erratic behavior.

“These products are of unknown origin and are imported into this country,” Mr. Vittone said in a news release issued Wednesday. “They present a serious, recognized health risk.”

Parents, especially those with teenage children, should take heed, Trooper Christy said.

“You have to be aware of what your kids are involved with and know what’s out there and what dangers are out there,” he said. “These things were being sold in convenience stores and places where they just sell tobacco.”

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Authorities raid shops selling ‘K2’

State and local police and the Washington County district attorney’s drug task force raided nine retail establishments today as part of a nationwide crackdown on businesses suspected of selling a chemical compound with a marijuana-like effect on the brain, Washington County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas said.

According to a press release from the district attorney’s office, undercover detectives and police officers have been buying the compound from Washington County stores for months.

Search warrants were granted and teams that included state, county, and local police searched the establishments this morning, Mr. Lucas said.

Mr. Lucas said officials would not disclose the locations of the searches because the searches are ongoing.

The Pennsylvania State Police have called a press conference for 4 p.m. today to discuss the warrants.

The raids reflected growing concern nationwide over the traffic of the compound, also known by the names “K2” or “Spice.”

The district attorney’s office said the compound can cause respiratory injuries, paranoia, vomiting, and erratic behavior.

“These products are of unknown origin and are imported into this country,” Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone II said in the press release. “They present a serious recognized health risk.”

Mr. Lucas said search warrants targeting sellers of the compound were also being executed in Allegheny County and locations around the country today as part of an effort that incorporated “all levels of law enforcement.”

The district attorney’s office said that officers have been able to trace the drugs sold in Washington County to mainland China.

First synthesized in 1995 by a Clemson University undergraduate student working under a research professor of organic chemistry, the compound was first called JWH-018 — a reference to the professor’s initials.

That professor, John W. Huffman, has been quoted widely saying calling the compound “synthetic marijuana” is a misnomer and makes it sound too benign. The compound does attach to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain that respond to marijuana, he has said, but is chemically different from THC, the active compound in marijuana, and was not designed for recreational use.

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