The Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection and other law enforcement agencies recently completed Project Synergy Phase II, an ongoing effort targeting the global synthetic designer drug market. The enforcement operation targeted drug trafficking organizations across the country.
The second phase of Project Synergy, which began in January 2014, extended to 29 states and served nearly 200 search warrants. More than 150 individuals were arrested and federal, state and local law enforcement authorities seized hundreds of thousands of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs as well as hundreds of kilograms of raw synthetic products to make thousands more. Additionally, more than $20 million in cash and assets was seized. These numbers are expected to grow as investigations continue.
The Project Synergy initiative brings together federal, state, local, and international law enforcement resources.
In addition to targeting retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers, many of the investigations uncovered the massive flow of drug-related proceeds to countries in the Middle East, including Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and others. Investigations also targeted facets such as organic leaves and packaging material used in preparation for drug re-sale and distribution. These facilitators are key players in this ever-changing designer drug industry.
Communities, families, and individuals across the United States have experienced the scourge of designer synthetic drugs, which are often marketed as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, or plant food. These dangerous drugs have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency room visits. Those who have abused synthetic drugs have suffered vomiting, anxiety, agitation, irritability, seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. They have caused significant organ damage as well as overdose deaths. Over the past five years, the DEA has identified between 200 and 300 new designers drugs from eight different structural classes, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China.
“Many who manufacture, distribute and sell these dangerous synthetic drugs found out first hand that DEA will target, find and prosecute those who have committed these crimes,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “The success of Project Synergy II could not have been possible without the assistance of our state, local and foreign law enforcement partners. We stand united in our commitment to aggressively pursue criminals who are all too willing to experiment on our children and young adults.”
“Tragically, people die every day at the hands of illegal designer drugs,” said ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale. “Through operations like this, we strike a blow to drug dealers and continue an important national conversation about the dangers associated with drug use.”
The first phase of Project Synergy began in December 2012 and resulted in more than 227 arrests and 416 search warrants served in 35 states, 49 cities and five countries, with more than $60 million in cash and assets seized. Altogether, 9,445 kilograms of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs, 299 kilograms of cathinone drugs (the falsely labeled “bath salts”), 1,252 kilograms of synthetic cannabinoid drugs (used to make the so-called “fake pot” or herbal incense products), and 783 kilograms of treated plant material were seized.
Chemists and other scientists from DEA’s Office of Forensic Science were instrumental in identifying synthetic drugs and compounds designed to circumvent U.S. controlled substance classifications. The identifying of these compounds allowed investigators and prosecutors to act quickly during the course of these investigations. Intelligence has also been shared with other nations such as Australia and other international partners, who have in turn seized hundreds of kilograms of illicit designer substances such as cannabinoids, cathinones and GHB.