WASHINGTON — The Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to stay one step ahead of synthetic drug makers, wholesalers and retailers as it broadens its crackdown on the growing black market product.
DEA agents fanned out across the country Wednesday and made more than 150 arrests and served about 200 warrants, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said. The largest single operation was a statewide effort in Alabama, though agents also were active in 28 other states, including Florida. Authorities also seized more than $20 million in cash and assets, the DEA said.
The Treasury Department also announced the first financial sanctions against people accused of dealing in synthetic drugs, three in Canada and one from Barbados. The government's decision to identify and sanction the four, along with four foreign companies that authorities said were used to buy and sell significant quantities of the chemicals used in many popular synthetic drugs, means U.S. citizens cannot do business with them.
The DEA has been cracking down on synthetic drugs, including Spice, Molly and so-called bath salts, since the drugs first gained widespread popularity years ago.
In late 2010, the agency moved to ban five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana blends, including K2, Spice and Blaze. Since then, drug manufacturers have continued to modify their formulas and develop new chemical mixtures.
Officials said the agency was 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.