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The crackdown continues

Getting synthetic drugs off the street

Published: Friday, May 9, 2014 1:22 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, May 9, 2014 1:24 p.m. CST

The nationwide crackdown on synthetic drugs hit the spotlight this week, with local efforts continuing to reduce the use of synthetic drugs.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced more than 150 people were arrested in a four-month nationwide round-up of alleged sellers and makers of synthetic drugs, substances that authorities say can be more dangerous than the drugs they mimic. Authorities seized hundreds of thousands of synthetic drug packages and more than $20 million in cash and assets in the 29-state, January-to-May round-up, which the DEA said was the second phase of an operation called Project Synergy.

Community Partners Against Substance Abuse (CPASA) coordinator Dawn Conerton said CPASA has worked with area law enforcement agencies for nearly three years in raising awareness of the dangers of synthetic drugs.

She first became aware of synthetic drugs in July 2011 when contacted by a parent whose son was using synthetic drugs, which were legal at that time, Conerton said. Within months, CPASA was working with area law enforcement agencies, including those in Princeton and Spring Valley, to get ordinances passed banning the possession, sale and delivery of synthetic drugs. In 2012, the federal government had also made synthetic drugs illegal, she said.

CPASA continues to work with area law enforcement agencies to help inform the public about the dangers of synthetic drugs, providing presentations to area businesses, schools and other community groups and at numerous community events, Conerton said.

“People don’t know what synthetic drugs look like and how they can be packaged, and they don’t realize that they are extremely dangerous,” Conerton said. “One problem with synthetic drugs is that they keep changing, so it can be hard to keep up with what’s out there.”

On Friday, Spring Valley Police Chief Kevin Sangston said there has been a dramatic decrease in the availability of synthetic drugs in his community since the police department closed down a Spring Valley smoke shop last September and the city council revoked the business’ tobacco license. Before that time, there was a large proliferation of synthetic drugs in the area, but that is no longer the case, Sangston said.

Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson said he’s also seen great improvements during the past two years in controlling the possession and sale of synthetic drugs, thanks to events taking place locally and statewide. The Illinois Attorney General’s office is allowing local law enforcement agencies to do more in the area of enforcement. There used to be no control over the sale of synthetic drugs, but that’s no longer the case, he said.

Also, individual communities are taking action by passing ordinances prohibiting the possession, delivery and sale of synthetic drugs. The city of Princeton was on the cutting edge in passing a local ordinance limiting the availability of synthetic drugs to the public, with other communities also passing similar ordinances, the sheriff said.

But looking ahead, Thompson said law enforcement is now facing the importation of synthetic drugs through the Internet. What may appear to be a benign products, like bath salts, could be something very different. It’s time for the country to step up to the plate and protect its communities from what can be brought into the country, not just synthetic drugs but also heroin, the sheriff said.

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