SHREVEPORT, La. -
The Drug Enforcement Agency announced this week that the organization has issued hundreds of search and arrests warrants across the country, a part of their largest ever sweep against synthetic drugs.
Louisiana Poison Center's Mark Ryan can show you in a matter of seconds how to legally buy and import designer drugs.
"If you know the keywords, it's just a few key strokes and hit the enter button," Ryan says.
The Chinese firms that produce and sell the substances label them as research chemicals, creating a regulatory hole. Pharmaceutical companies are subject to food and drug administration scrutiny. Chemical companies that sell fertilizer and industrial cleaners are regulated too, but these so-called research labs legally produce what they want and in high amounts- promising buyers as much as a hundred kilograms a week.
"That is a tremendous drug potential that could make it onto the streets, and we're still seeing these drugs to great harm," Ryan says.
Wednesday, the Drug Enforcement Agency updated the results of Project Synergy, their attempt to sweep up synthetic drugs.
"The harm inflicted by these designer drugs is matched only by the profit potential for those who sell them," says Richard Weber, IRS-Criminal Investigation.
One hurdle law enforcement agencies face when fighting the synthetic drugs is legality.
"Every time new legislation is being introduced to help control the problem, we see things pop up on the side that seem to keep it going," Ryan says.
The DEA admits that many of the designer drugs seized in Project Synergy are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act. They use the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 to pick up drugs proven to be chemically or pharmacologically similar to Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances.
Even when law enforcement agencies do recognize the substances they're dealing with and how they work, there's always a new one popping up.
Ryan says after one week away from the computer, he opened a search and was not surprised by what he found.
"I went back to the websites," Ryan says. "There are three brand new substances I'd never seen before. So it's a pretty constant flow right now."
Since Project Synergy's start in December 2012, the sweep has yielded 227 arrests and 416 search warrants. The work has crossed 35 states, 49 cities and five countries, with more than $51 million dollars in cash and assets seized.
11 arrest warrants were executed in Terrebonne Parish.