Mom of spice addict: 'he had demons chasing him'
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Federal drug agents led a nationwide, and even global, crackdown on new synthetic drugs, saying the action was a response to public outcry.
Officers in Bakersfield said calls from citizens and news reports helped target the raids on shops selling the drug called "spice."
Eyewitness News focused on this synthetic marijuana in reports in April. We'd heard from families distraught over the impacts on their loved ones. A woman we identified by only her first name came forward, hoping to stop the sales of spice, saying her son suffered severe physical and emotional problems.
On Wednesday, the Drug Enforcement Administration led a series of raids, and Shyanne was ecstatic.
"I think it's awesome," the mother said. "I think sometimes it just takes that one cry for somebody to hear."
Ten locations were raided in Bakersfield last week. The local resident agent in charge said those sites were specifically targeted.
"I can tell you that a lot of the information that we got came from the public," Carl Beckett told Eyewitness News. "And that was from people calling into my office, calling into your station. We take those seriously."
Beckett said seven smoke shops, two homes and a warehouse were served with federal search warrants. The warehouse facility is one block from Downtown Elementary School. In the warehouse, they found both spice and "bath salts."
"Both of them are dangerous," Beckett said. "Both of them are marketed to children, and that's something that we just can't tolerate in this community."
The agent said with the sellers targeting children, that also made the investigation more difficult.
"They don't necessarily sell to grown-ups, but if you were a child they readily sell to you," Beckett said.
The agent said officers had to get a lot more creative.
Shyanne said her 22-year-old son is one of those who easily bought spice. It got so bad, that he simply disappeared. The mother said she just got him off the streets a couple weeks ago.
"When I first got him home, he had demons chasing him," Shyanne said. "He was afraid of everything and anything. I couldn't hardly get him to eat."
She had previously described serious physical symptoms from spice, saying her son would vomit blood, turn gray and almost pass out.
On Wednesday, the DEA had operations in 35 states to target spice and similar drugs.
"Designer synthetic drugs are often marketed as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner, or plant food, and have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency room visits," a DEA statement said. "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."
Beckett said both spice and bath salts were found in the warehouse.
"This is the hub that we understood it to be," the agent said. "A lot of the smoke shops are receiving their stuff from this location."
Beckett said he had 50 officers in the warehouse on Wednesday, and they found two entire floors full of merchandise.
"Spice, bath salts and a lot of paraphernalia," he said.
Beckett described bath salts as a powdery material. "It looks similar to methamphetamine crushed up, or cocaine."
On Thursday of last week, Eyewitness News went back to the warehouse. Workers inside asked us to leave and said there was no one available to comment. We also went to one of the Cigarette World locations that was raided, and a clerk inside said the boss didn't work there, and he didn't know how to reach him.
Eyewitness News called all the other smoke shops that were targeted. Each one said there was no one available to comment, or they didn't know how to reach the owner. Eyewitness News left contact information at each, and we haven't heard back.
On the day of the raids, officers across the country were also confiscating large shipments of suspected spice and bath salts.
"These series of enforcement actions include retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers," a DEA statement said. "In addition, these investigations have uncovered the massive flow of drug-related proceeds back to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere."
The global reach of the trade is something local agents also talked about.
"DEA, as a whole, is doing one large operation throughout the entire United States," Agent Beckett said. "Targeting in the China, Australia areas, we're doing one, big operation today as well -- because we do take it that seriously."
Spice is banned under both federal and California law. The laws identify five chemicals used to make the synthetic drugs. As Eyewitness News has discovered, some of the drug makers try to get around the laws by slightly changing the chemicals. Beckett said the DEA is getting the upper hand.
"The DEA has developed the methods and ways in order to identify the compounds within these substances," Beckett explained.
And the DEA statement has even more detail on that, saying the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 allows many of the drugs to be treated as banned "if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar" to outlawed substances.
Beckett explained it in other terms. "Of the five banned substances, and any banned substances that have been recently scheduled (as illegal), we can also go after individuals if they change the compounds and then now it becomes a derivative of the original," he said.
As of Monday, there was no word about arrests or indictments from the raids in Bakersfield.
The DEA agent did say drugs worth about $2.7 million had been seized. DEA agents were joined by local law officers in the raids.
Shyanne is relieved action is being taken to get spice out of the smoke shops.
"I can't wait to see the end of it," she said. "I just want people to be aware of what the spice is, and the long-term damage it can do to the brain."
The DEA called their action the "largest ever synthetic drug takedown."
"We heard the cries of the public," Beckett said. "With any location that we found out from the tips we got, that were selling to kids, we targeted those locations."
And, the agent said they want more tips. Anyone with information on the sales of spice can call the Bakersfield DEA office at (661) 396-3736.
"We're not done," Beckett said. "Continue to call us. We do pay attention, we do listen, and we'll investigate."