40 face misdemeanor charges after raid
MURFREESBORO — Store owners and others caught up in a recent Tennessee Bureau of Investigation synthetic drug raid are scheduled to appear in a Rutherford County General Sessions courtroom Dec. 20 on misdemeanor drug charges.
“The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation served dozens of individuals Tuesday in Rutherford County with charges stemming from Operation Synful Smoke, a series of undercover buys of synthetic drugs sold at area convenience stores and markets earlier this year,” the TBI said Wednesday.
The raid was conducted in September at the request of the Rutherford County District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the Law Enforcement and Special Prosecutions Division of the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office. The TBI and other law enforcement agencies executed warrants at 36 local convenience stores believed tied to the illegal sale of synthetic drugs.
On Tuesday, 89 misdemeanor complaints were served on 40 individuals, primarily store owners, on charges ranging from possession of synthetic cannabinoids to possession with the intent to sell synthetic methcathinones.
Rutherford County Assistant District Attorney J. Paul Newman, speaking on behalf of District Attorney General Bill Whitesell, said the DA’s office is sending a message that “drug abuse is not to be a part of this community.”
“It’s something we are concerned about,” he said. “We are trying to keep up with new drugs that are hitting the market, and it’s always a race.”
The Sept. 7 raid on local convenience stores resulted in the seizure of 23,000 total units of synthetic cannabinoid- and methcathinone-containing products, along with $44,500 cash and numerous articles of drug paraphernalia.
Authorities said the search warrants for stores were obtained after numerous undercover purchases of illegal synthetic drugs were made between June and August.
Synthetic cannabinoids are dried plant materials treated with chemicals sold under various brand names, such as Vampire Blood, 7H, K2, Diablo, Exotica or Spice. Abusers smoke the product to experience effects similar to those induced by marijuana.
Synthetic methcathinone is a central nervous system stimulant similar to a Schedule I Controlled Substance sold in powder, liquid and crystal forms as plant food, insect repellent, pond cleaner and vacuum freshener. Abusers typically ingest, inhale, inject or smoke the product to experience an effect similar to amphetamines, cocaine or Ecstasy. The synthetic drugs can cause severe physical and psychological reactions and even death.
The majority of the illicit synthetic substances confiscated from markets were labeled “not for human consumption” by their manufactures, but an escalating number of calls to poison control centers, local police departments and visits to emergency rooms across the country indicated people were consuming them.
Authorities have said the “not for human consumption packing” is nothing but a ploy and an attempt to skirt the law.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, calls to poison control centers for the first seven months of the year in reference to exposure to bath salts (methcathinone products) alone increased from 303 cases in 2010 to 4,137 in 2011, an increase of more than 1,300 percent.
State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, one of two Rutherford County legislators who advocated legislation aimed at outlawing synthetic drugs across the state during the last legislative session, has made repeated pleas to residents, through his local radio show and through media outlets, to no longer shop at stores caught selling the substances.
Sparks has said he has plans to further strengthen laws against those persons or businesses that are manufacturing and selling illicit-drug mimicking synthetics.
This week, Sparks told The Daily News Journal that he would also like to strip a business of its beer license if it is caught selling synthetic drugs.
“It would be a major deterrent,” he explained.
Newman told The DNJ that the Rutherford County DA’s office would welcome more stringent laws on synthetics.
“We support any stricter laws the legislature can give us or that cities can give us that will help … adequately address the problems the community is having,” he said.
Sparks also has said that some local beer boards may already have the authority to punish businesses caught selling synthetics, using existing rules that disallow store owners from ignoring or encouraging illegal activities on store grounds.
Several cases of overdose and bad reactions to synthetics have been reported to law enforcement over the past several months, including an Aug. 20 incident involving a Nashville television reporter. The Fox 17 reporter ingested Molly’s Plant Food and drove his vehicle in circles on a number of lawns, almost striking children, according to police.
He ended up in a local emergency room after telling police he had ingested the substance as part of an investigation for a news story.
Two Rutherford County Schools students were arrested for possessing synthetic marijuana in class in September, according to reports on file at the county sheriff’s office.
A brother and sister also recently contacted the Sheriff’s Office about their mother’s synthetic drug use. The brother and sister told police their mother had been acting strangely after using “Euphoria bath salts.”
After authorities learned the woman hadn’t slept for three days straight and was acting erratically, an ambulance called and she was transported to the ER.
Newman reminded parents and other residents Wednesday that they need to be knowledgeable about what to look for when it comes to synthetic drugs so violations can be reported to the proper authorities.
“They need to be sensitive to watching children’s (and loved ones’) behavior,” he said. “You have to be vigilant 24 hours a day, and contact the police department if you become concerned.”