The sheriff's office has declared war on the manufacture and sale of synthetic drugs in Pasco County, one with multiple fronts.
At a , Sheriff Chris Nocco said going after the people who make the products is "chopping off the head of the snake."
But it's a snake with many parts, he said.
The raid turned up about 440 pounds of raw materials and 100,000 packages of finished product, according to the sherriff's office.
Getting that much product off the market is a start, but the battle is far from over.
"I promise you there is still more to come," Nocco said.
And to anyone who is selling synthetic drug products, "you are part of a conspiracy," Nocco said. "If you're in this for greed, we're going to be putting handcuffs on you."
One of Nocco's biggest concerns is promoting awareness among parents and caregivers. With packaging that targets youth, and its low price point—about $15— the products can be alluring to teens who may see it as a legal alternative to marijuana. And it's easily purchased online and at some retailers, he said.
But just because you can buy it in a store does not make it safe. Bay Care Executive Director Doug Leonardo said the effects are nothing like "organically grown" marijuana. Instead, the drugs mimic the effects of PCP, and can cause pyschosis, hallucinations, temporary and permanent blindness, and myriad other effects, he said.
"Synthetic marijuana is a misnomer. It's nothing like marijuana," Leonardo said. "This is a chemical that may kill you if you try it."
And yet the products are readily available. "Kids can go online and order this stuff," Nocco said.
"(Parents) have to know what their kids are doing," he said.
The sheriff's office—and keep them off. Business owners sign a pledge that they will not sell the products, which are comprised of a cocktail of toxic chemicals, and in return are given a sticker to display on their storefront: "Synthetic Drugs Kill - These Drugs Are NOT Sold Here."
The hope is that the program will encourage consumers to shop at stores that display the sticker, while also alerting the public to the existence and dangers of the products, which despite a state bill passed that banned certain ingredients, remain in the marketplace because of crafty manufacturing. The chemical makeup of the products is changed to skirt the law, Nocco said
Now, the federal government is making the use of "analog chemicals" a prosecutable offense, Vice and narcotics Lt. Chuck Balderstone said. Analog chemicals are those that contain compunds similar to those in banned substances, he said.
Wednesday's raid did not result in any immediate arrests—
The sheriff's office is preparing to seize some real estate and businesses soon. And "there will be arrests," Nocco said.
A former spice user shared his horror story during the unveiling of that sticker program.