WASHINGTON (AP) — The Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to stay one step ahead of synthetic drug makers, wholesalers and retailers as it broadens its crackdown on the growing black market product.
DEA agents fanned out across the country Wednesday and made more 150 arrests and served about 200 warrants, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said. The largest single operation was a statewide effort in Alabama, though agents also were active in 28 other states. Authorities also seized more than $20 million in cash and assets, the DEA said.
The Treasury Department also announced the first financial sanctions against people accused of dealing in synthetic drugs. The government formally sanctioned four people it identified as Daniel Maurice Louie, Kevin Kim Louie and Francine Denise Louie — all of Canada — and Tramayne Primus from Barbados.
The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment submitted on one of their company websites.
The government's decision to identify and sanction the four, along with four foreign companies that authorities said were used to buy and sell significant quantities of the chemicals used in many popular synthetic drugs, mean U.S. citizens cannot do business with them. The Office of Foreign Assets Control designation under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act also allows the government to seize U.S. assets tied to the group and the companies.
The Kingpin Act is a tool typically reserved for some of the most serious players in the international drug trade, including the likes of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, formerly the head of Mexico's powerful and ruthless Sinaloa Cartel.
The DEA has been cracking down on synthetic drugs, including Spice, Molly and so-called bath salts, since the drugs first gained widespread popularity years ago.
In late 2010, the agency responsible for enforcing federal drug laws moved to ban five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana blends, including K2, Spice and Blaze. Since then, drug manufacturers have continued to modify their formulas and develop new chemical mixtures. And every time a new drug is identified by the government, foreign chemists are ready with a slightly modified version often with a new brand name, Ferdinand Large, staff coordinator for DEA's Special Operations Division, said.
"It's an unbelievable amount of resources that these illicit chemists are putting into this," he added.
Large said the agency was now broadly focused on Chinese chemical manufacturers and the distributors, wholesalers and retailers in the United States.
One of the companies sanctioned by the Treasury Department is a Chinese pharmaceutical company accused of supplying chemicals needed to make the drugs.
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