By GARY POPP
State and local law enforcement officials gathered Thursday to announce their concerted assault on retailers attempting to sell mind-altering synthetic drugs sold under the guise of bath salts, plant food, incense, potpourri or novelty powders.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and area leaders spoke at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office saying that retailers across the state will be sent a formal notice to cease the sale of the drugs or they could face civil prosecution at the state level and even loss of their businesses.
“Retailers are forewarned,” Zoeller said. “The state of Indiana will not put up with the continuation of the sale of these products.”
The potent and dangerous drugs are typically sold at smoke shops, convenience stores and head shops and can be found displayed next to relatively benign products, officials said.
Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart said at the meeting that the substances are often marketed to teenagers, who may be unaware of the harms associated with consuming the drugs.
“These synthetic drugs have no legitimate use,” Stewart said. “And, their use is dangerous.”
“We see that as something that needs to be stopped,” he said of the availability of the drugs in the open marketplace.
Area lawmen including Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden, Clarksville Police Chief Mark Palmer and Jeffersonville Police Chief Chris Grimm were also at the meeting and spoke of their support of Zoeller’s effort to rid retail shelves of the dangerous drugs.
“We have seen firsthand the destruction of use of these drugs,” Rodden said. “(Users) are brought into the jail and they are out of their mind when they are on this stuff.”
The Office of the Attorney General released data that the synthetic drugs are made to mirror the highs associated with marijuana or cocaine use. Small packets of the drugs are often sold for $20 to $50.
“While the packaging is labeled ‘not for human consumption,’ the products are often taken orally, inhaled or injected,” according to the data.
The data also includes that synthetic drugs can result in “dangerously high body temperatures, racing heart rates, high blood pressure, permanent organ damage and the psychotic effect of these substances can last for several days.”
Zoeller is requesting retailers sign a Synthetic Drug Community Protection Agreement to stop selling the drugs and hand over related inventory to law enforcement officials.
The agreement will help future prosecution, if the merchant is found selling the drug, by documenting the merchant’s knowledge the sale of the substances was illegal.
The Office of the Attorney General is addressing letters to business owners, “It is now well-documented that users of these substances experience paranoia and hallucinations, as well as frequently exhibiting aggressive, unpredictable and often violent behaviors.”
The letter continues that the Attorney General will aggressively pursue civil action against any person or business involved in the sale of the dangerous substances.
Stewart said there are the nearly 50 synthetic drug possession cases currently pending in Clark County and that prosecuting those found in possession of the novelty powders is not simple.
In each case, the substance must to sent to the Indiana State Police Lab for testing, which can be a timely and costly process. Stewart said some cases result in plea bargaining before the results are returned from the state.
Stewart also said the unprecedented surge in the popularity of the drugs leaves law enforcement officers without the tools to easily identify the substances, in relation to marijuana and cocaine.
So far, no synthetic drug possession case has reached trial in Clark County, Stewart said.