The Pasco County Sheriff's Office scored a big win in its fight against synthetic drug manufacturers Wednesday, netting more than 440 pounds of raw materials and 100,000 packages of finished product as part of Operation Log Jam.
Working with federal DEA agents and other law enforcement agencies, the sheriff's office raided multiple locations throughout the county, which Sheriff Chris Nocco said is a "main hub" for synthetic drug distribution.
"This was a national operation that occurred," Nocco said.
Products from Pasco County are going to "all parts of this country," Nocco said.
There also are ties to China involved. While investigators were on scene at one of the locations, a mail carrier delivered a box containing 10 pounds of product from China, Nocco said.
"This is a battle we've been fighting for a while," Vice and Narcotics Lt. Chuck Balderstone said.
There were some hurdles early in the process, but partnering with the DEA has helped at the the local level.
"That's how we're going to be most effective at dealing with this issue," Balderstone said.
No arrests have been made as a result of the operation yet, Balderstone said. Investigation and analysis have to come first.
"It's a step by step process," he said. "It takes a little bit of time to make it prosecutable."
Nocco compared the investigation to the agency's work in shutting down pill mills. Warrants are served, people start getting scared and begin giving up information, which widens the sheriff's office net, he said.
"There will be arrests made," Nocco said.
The sheriff said his biggest concern is making parents and caregivers aware of the ease with which kids can purchase these synthetic drug products. Seizing such a large amount of the drugs also means less availability in the marketplace.
Part of the problem is that kids think of it as "legal" marijuana, and therefore harmless. The state has passed legislation banning certain chemicals used in the products' protection to outlaw its sale, however manufacturers skirt the law by changing the chemical compounds used to produce it.
Now, the federal governmens is allowing prosecution of those manufacturing products found with "analog chemicals," which are those that contain similar properties similar to those of banned chemicals, Balderstone said.
At one of the sheriff's office's operations, investigators had to wear masks because the air in the building was so toxic, Nocco said.
People might think because they can buy the products at a gas station, it's safe.
"You're smoking what blew up a garage the other night," Nocco said,
Parents and caregivers need to be aware that these products exist, what they look like and how easy they are to obtain. "We want them to be informed," Nocco said.
"If we could've saved one life, we had a good day yesterday," Nocco said.