CLEARWATER — The Clearwater Police Department has begun a crackdown on controversial brands of synthetic drugs sold at convenience stores and gas stations — part of a statewide effort to ban the substances, which authorities say have caused violent outbursts and death among users.
In a letter mailed to store owners, Clearwater police Chief Tony Holloway offered "the recommendation that 'Bath Salts,' 'Loose Leaf Incense,' 'K2,' 'Spice,' or similar products which contain the prohibited chemicals be removed from your establishments and disposed of."
Clearwater Public Safety spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said eight stores in Clearwater received the letter. Police will tell other shops to ditch the synthetic products if they hear of additional outlets selling it, she said.
"The letters serve to inform and warn the businesses of the law and what is legal and not," Watts said. "If the suspected activity continues and is confirmed, we would forward charges to the state attorney. The products would have to be tested to confirm the banned chemicals are in fact present."
Clearwater's efforts are part of a broader campaign that comes in response to a growing public health and safety crisis. In July, when an expanded state ban on synthetic drugs went into effect, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office also issued notices to the stores — typically small, independent convenience markets — urging them to rid their shelves of the products.
Prior to the state legislation, many of the drugs were legal and marketed as incense or potpourri. The drug manufacturers have stayed a step ahead of authorities by constantly changing their formulas to evade bans on specific chemical compounds.
At the same time, evidence of the substances' harmful effects — including hallucinations, seizures, kidney failure and panic attacks — has mounted. In one high-profile incident in January, a Clearwater teen who police said had smoked "Jazz" drowned.
Behind the counter at the Food Mart at 1208 N Fort Harrison Ave. on Thursday, Dhargam Ateia said the store had received the warning letter from Clearwater police. Ateia said his father owns the shop. He pointed to the glass display case where, until recently, he said the targeted substances were sold.
"I used to have it right here," he said.
However, Ateia said he and his father removed the products when they learned they were illegal. He said he had not known they were used to get high.
"It was just something I was selling," he said.
Peter Jamison can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.