Maricopa Cty Attorney declares war on sellers of bath salts

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is launching a new offensive in the war against designer and synthetic drugs, including so-called "bath salts."

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said Tuesday that he intends to go after those selling the drugs, not just those making them.

One of the biggest issues with synthetic drugs is that new variants are developed almost faster than current ones are banned.

"What's so dangerous about these, quite frankly, is that there are so many of them," explained Shelly Mowrey of Partnership for a Drug-Free America's Arizona affiliate earlier this year. "The minute that you ban some of these synthetic drugs, another one pops up."

"The moment you start to regulate one of them, they'll come out with a variant that sometimes is even more potent," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over the summer.

"We're just constantly trying to keep up with the number of different synthetic drugs that are out there because it's infinite right now," Mowrey said.

Montgomery said something along the same lines when speaking to the East Valley Synthetic Drug Task Force Tuesday, explaining that chemists can redesign synthetic drugs to make them legal faster than bans can be passed.

It's important to keep banning the components of synthetic drugs, Montgomery said, but further steps need to be taken, including cracking down on the businesses that sell the drugs.

Available at many smoke shops for as little as $10, these potentially lethal drugs are relatively easy to get.

Montgomery and his team are taking a close look at Yavapai County's practice of obtaining injunctions against businesses found selling "a known public health threat."

It's not clear if or when Montgomery might implement a similar initiative in Maricopa County.

Another option, according to Montgomery, would be to use federal racketeering laws to seize those businesses.

In July, the Drug Enforcement Agency teamed up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and dozens of dozens of law-enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels to launch Operation Log Jam.

As part of that first-of-its-kind operation, agents and officers fanned out in 109 cities, including Phoenix, to go after manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic drugs like bath salts, K2 and Spice.

Seven people were arrested in the Phoenix Metro area.

Log Jam was the first national law enforcement offensive against the manufacturers of what has been infamously nicknamed "the synthetic designer drug industry." Locally, it was the first step in what is expected to garner numerous more arrests and seizures.

In 2010, poison centers nationwide responded to about 3,200 calls related to synthetic Spice and bath salts, according to the DEA. In 2011, that number jumped to more than 13,000 calls. Sixty percent of the cases involved patients 25 and younger.