DEA leads crackdown on sellers of designer drugs

In this Jan. 26, 2011 file photo, containers of bath salts, synthetic stimulants that mimic the effects of traditional drugs like cocaine and speed, sit on a counter at Hemp's Above in Mechanicsburg, Pa. On July 10, 2012, President Obama signed a law banning more than two dozen of the most common chemicals used to make the drugs. Over the past two years health care and law enforcement professionals have seen a surge in use of the drugs, often sold under the guise of bath salts, incense and plant food. ( Chris Knight / AP Photo/The Patriot-News)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Drug Enforcement Administration is leading a national crackdown against manufacturers, distributors and vendors of popular and soon-to-be illegal synthetic designer drugs.

Law enforcement agencies in about 100 cities have raided smoke shops and other sellers of synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs that have been linked to psychotic episodes and deaths of users. The drugs have become a popular alternative to traditional street drugs, but law enforcement and health professionals have warned that the chemicals used to make the synthetic marijuana and hallucinogenic “bath salts” haven’t been tested or approved for human consumption. The synthetic marijuana is sold under brand names such as “K2” and “Spice.”

The DEA and other law enforcement officials were expected to announce the results of the nationwide crackdown later Thursday.

The agency temporarily has banned some of the chemicals found in synthetic marijuana, and President Barack Obama this month signed into law a measure that bans the sale, production and possession of many of the chemicals found in the most popular synthetic drugs.

But experts who have studied the drugs estimate that there are more than 100 different bath-salt chemicals circulating. Bath salts can mimic the effects of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine.

Use of the drugs has grown since the synthetic products first hit the market a few years ago. They are readily available for purchase in smoke shops and sometimes even corner gas stations, and at relatively low price, and that’s made them a popular alternative to street drugs.

As the drugs have become more popular, side effects have become evident to health professionals. Doctors and police have struggled at times to control bath salt users who often become feverish and paranoid that they are being attacked. Several deaths have been attributed to the drugs, including the suicide of a 21-year-old Covington, La., man who shot himself in the head in 2010.

___ Associated Press reporter Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.

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