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Narcotics
05/07/2014

ICE participates in major takedown targeting the designer drug industry

WASHINGTON — In an ongoing effort targeting every level of the dangerous global synthetic designer drug market, law enforcement in 29 states served nearly 200 search warrants culminating a nationwide enforcement operation on drug trafficking organizations operating throughout the country. The operation, which began in January, is called Project Synergy II.

The large-scale operation was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), FBI, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other federal, state, and local partners nationwide. All of these federal agencies are part of the Special Operations Division.

As of today, more than 150 individuals have been arrested and federal, state and local law enforcement authorities have 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. More than $20 million in cash and assets were seized. These numbers are expected to grow as investigations continue.

Retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers of synthetic designer drugs were targeted. Many of these investigations continued to uncover the massive flow of drug-related proceeds to countries in the Middle East, including Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and as well as other countries. The investigations also targeted many trade implements 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.

"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."

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 between 200 and 300 new designers drugs from eight different structural classes have been identified, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China.

"Many who manufacture, distribute and sell these dangerous synthetic drugs found out first hand today 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."

"This is another example of the partnership between CBP, HSI, and DEA to share information and participate in joint efforts to keep synthetic drugs out of the country, off the streets, and out of our communities," said CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. "The specialized expertise of our CBP officers as well as the unique capabilities of CBP scientists play a vital role in contributing to the seizure and identification of these potentially deadly substances at the border."

Chemists and other scientists from DEA's Office of Forensic Science, as well as CBP scientists across the country, 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 quickly act during the course of these investigations. As a result of these cooperative efforts between DEA and CBP through the Special Operations Division, CBP has seized over 3,000 kilograms of illicit designer drugs. 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.