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Stoddard County authorities seize synthetic drugs
BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- Stoddard County officials seized numerous suspected designer drugs, such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana, from convenience stores there Thursday morning as part of an ongoing investigation into the manufacturers of these substances.
The Stoddard County Sheriff's Department, with assistance from the Dexter Police Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol, delivered a letter from Stoddard County Prosecuting Russ Oliver to the businesses in the county and seized the suspected designer drugs as evidence.
In that letter, Oliver cited several state statutes, which make the substances illegal.
"We went to basically every business (in the county) that may be handling this type of thing; we only found six selling" the substances, said Sheriff Carl Hefner.
Officers seized hundreds of packages, which Hefner estimated to have a wholesale cost of about $11,000 to $12,000.
Hefner said the 3-gram packages were selling retail for "$20 to $25 a pop, up to as much as $40."
Describing the designer drug situation as being "very significant," Hefner said, it has been going on for quite some time.
"We weren't sure how to get a handle on it; we're dealing with people in all age groups, young, middle age," Hefner said.
Officers, he said, have had dealings with people using such substances, sold with names like Bocomo, an herb/incense type of substance.
Bocomo, which has what Hefner described as different strengths, comes in cherry, blueberry and peach flavors, but then there is also a "wicked" version that is "supercharged."
"They still get high off of it, and are driving their vehicles," Hefner said. "It's altering their motor skills."
Hefner said officers also have dealt with people using the bath salts.
"It has the same effect on them as methamphetamine … staying up for four or five days at a time, paranoia, hallucinations," Hefner said.
One young man, who was arrested, reported having used methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, but he had "never done any drug that has the effects bath salts have," Hefner said.
Thursday's sweep was part of an ongoing investigation that reaches beyond Stoddard County, Oliver said in a news release.
"Today, we seized the evidence that will show these drugs were for commercial sale in our county," Oliver said. "We plan on tracing the transfer of these designer drugs up the distribution chain.
"When we find the bathtub chemists that are making these drugs and link them to the products that were located in Stoddard County, we will be pursuing charges. Regardless of whether they are in St. Louis or in Florida, their illegal products landed in Stoddard County, and we will hold them accountable. "
No charges are being sought against the businesses at this time, Hefner said.
"They were not aware they were doing anything wrong or breaking any law," Hefner said. "They were all compliant and cooperative in turning stuff over to us."
Should the business owners replace and sell the seized substances, Hefner said, they could be face felony drug distribution charges.
"Regardless of whether your store currently sells these compounds, the future availability of these synthetic drugs and bath salts in your store makes you criminally liable as a controlled substance distributor," said Oliver in his letter.
The drug analog statute, according to Oliver, provides a sweeping solution to the problematic "synthetic drug epidemic."
This statute, Oliver said, says analogues of controlled substances are to be treated as though they were the controlled substance, such as marijuana, methamphetamine or cocaine, itself.
To qualify as a controlled substance analog, Oliver said, the substance must be substantially similar in composition and have similar stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effects on the central nervous system.
Oliver said the chemicals in these designer drugs are simply slightly altered versions of controlled substances.
"As a result, they have very similar effects, and that's why it is our position that they are analogues of controlled substances" under the statutes, he said.
Despite the fact the packaging says not for human consumption, Oliver said, the drugs are sold at "inflated drug dealer prices for the very reason that they produce very similar effects to cocaine or marijuana when ingested.
"If Joe Dirtbag puts 'not for human consumption' on the Baggie of meth or cocaine he is selling, the jury could laugh at him and send him to prison."
According to Oliver, people selling and buying these designer drugs are no different. "I don't believe them, and a jury wouldn't either," he said.
Distribution or delivery of those substances is a felony, which carries a punishment range of five to 15 years in prison.
Oliver said when many of the so-called bath salts become illegal in Missouri on Aug. 28, manufacturers will simply alter their product to have different substances. A similar change occurred when Missouri banned K2.
The analog statute "allows us to prosecute any analog of a controlled substance that they come up with," Oliver said. "This approach will allow law enforcement to stay one step ahead of these drug dealers."
Oliver also cited two additional statutes, which criminalize the possession and distribution of imitation controlled substances. These substances, he said, do not need to be chemically similar to a controlled substance.
"It merely needs to cause a similar effect as a controlled substance, or by it's appearance or use leads a reasonable person to believe that it is a controlled substance," Oliver said.
The distribution of these compounds is a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison.
"While this office has not previously prosecuted the distribution of these products, that policy is now officially changing," Oliver said.
The selling of products, such as bath salts, K2, synthetic marijuana, synthetic cocaine, synthetic THC, is illegal and charges will be filed against stores, store owners and employees who "do not change their practices accordingly," Oliver said.
Hefner said it is law enforcement's job to get these types of substances away from the children.
While a 15-year-old, for example, legally can buy herbs or incense, a person has to be 18 to buy these substances, Hefner said. "That tells you something is wrong with the picture," he said.