The Drug Enforcement Administration served hundreds of search and arrest warrants in at least 25 states on Wednesday as part of a years-long effort to crack down on the synthetic drug market. The DEA has also been warning retailers for selling suspicious amounts of painkillers and other types of prescription drugs.
Synthetic drugs, like "Molly," "bath salts," "spice," and various forms of synthetic marijuana, have become increasingly popular over the last few years — and also more dangerous as the people manufacturing them cut corners and use more unsafe chemicals. That has prompted the DEA to propose a ban on five common ingredients used to make the substances. But that hasn't made them any easier to regulate, according to NBC Bay Area. The news outlet reported on the subject back in February:
Five new different synthetic drug compounds are introduced to the U.S. market every month, according to the DEA. In 2009 alone, DEA agents found more than 200 different synthetic drug compounds on the streets. They’re also easy to find. A quick search on the Internet can land any number of people willing to provide these drugs at a moment’s notice. “The drugs are widely available,” one recovering drug addict told NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit. “The scary thing is Oxycontin and synthetic drugs were really coming up when I was going into high school.”
The DEA is concerned with synthetic drugs in large part because they can be lethal. Doctors in hospitals throughout the country say they see patients suffering from negative effects of the drugs on a regular basis, and that it's difficult for them to treat ailments they don't recognize. Per NBC Miami:
It’s also a challenge for ER docs like El Sanadi. He estimated his hospital sees patients suffering with synthetic marijuana side effects at least every other day. "We get worried sometimes in the emergency department that we may be missing some of those cases of synthetic marijuana because our laboratory doesn’t test for every single variant," said El Sanadi.
The government agency also fears that the Asian-based drug makers could be sending funds to terrorist organizations, according to the Associated Press:
Ferdinand Large, staff coordinator for DEA's Special Operations Division, said the agency is now broadly focused on Chinese chemical manufacturers and the distributors, wholesalers and retailers in the United States. There is also growing concern about where the money is going. Investigators have tracked hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds being sent to Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Large said. "The money is going there, where it stops we don't know," Large said. Large said it's also unclear which criminal organizations may be profiting from the drug proceeds.
The DEA has also ramped up the attention on prescription drugs abuse. Just a few days ago, the agency raided six Walgreens stores and a distribution center in Florida. For now, the government is looking at how many customers pay in cash; those buying oxycodone and paying in cash are more likely selling them for recreational use. If the stores seem to be selling drugs that end up on the black market they could be banned from selling prescription medication, as has happened to CVS stores on previous occasions. The Wall Street Journal reports that these investigations could lead to stricter regulations on legal painkiller sales in the future.
Marijuana, on the other hand, seems to be getting something of a free pass from the DEA, which makes sense now that it's legal in Colorado and there is talk of decriminalization in a number of other states. The government, in fact, upped the maximum quota of marijuana that can be grown for research purposes, from 21 kilograms to 650 kilograms this year. That seems like kind of a lot, but we're not complaining.