PHOENIX -- Federal investigators raided 12 locations in Scottsdale and Phoenix in a huge drug bust involving Spice and bath salts on Monday.
Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) along with various state and local law enforcement agencies executed search warrants at six private residences, five retail stores, including Camelback Liquors at 20th Avenue and Camelback Road, and a warehouse near 23rd Avenue and Encanto Boulevard where much of the illegal drug was manufactured, stored and distributed.
Authorities seized more than 20,000 units of synthetic cannabinoids, often marketed as Spice and K2. They also seized 50 pounds of bulk Spice ready for retail packaging, more than 3 kilograms of raw chemicals, more than $385,000 in cash and in bank accounts, four vehicles and five firearms.
DEA spokeswoman Ramona Sanchez said the amount taken from Camelback Liquors is comparable to that taken from most of the other retail locations.
"We have confiscated approximately 600 units from this liquor store," she said. "Each unit can run anywhere from up to $20 each."
Since April, the DEA had been investigating an extensive drug organization responsible for the manufacturing and distribution of synthetic drugs based in Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Prior to the takedown, DEA and participating agencies had already seized 33 kilograms of Spice and several raw chemicals to produce an additional 110 kilograms of cannabinoids.
The designer drugs are colorful and extremely dangerous, bringing in big bucks to often give users an unsteady high.
Sold in legitimate-looking packaging, these insidious substances are marketed with benign and catchy titles like Spice, Blaze, Vanilla Sky and incense, according to Sanchez. She said many of these products come with a disclaimer that they are "not for human consumption" to mask the dangers they pose.
"These chemicals can be just as dangerous as those in more traditional drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine," Sanchez said.
In 2010, poison centers nationwide responded to about 3,200 calls related to synthetic Spice and bath salts. In 2011, that number jumped to more than 13,000 calls.
Sanchez said while there were no arrests made, the investigation into illegal designer drugs in the Valley is ongoing.
"We have struck another blow to the synthetic designer drug industry, from manufacturers and distributors to retailers," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. "DEA and our partners have seized large quantities of these dangerous substances and ill-gotten assets. We will continue to target these new and emerging drugs with every investigative tool at our disposal and bring to justice those who peddle these poisons and harm our society."