Butler Co. spice bust sheds light on rise of synthetic drugs - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Butler Co. spice bust sheds light on rise of synthetic drugs

Calvin Powell (Source: Butler County Sheriff's Office) Calvin Powell (Source: Butler County Sheriff's Office)
An investigation that spanned several months ended in the takedown of a suspected drug dealer in Greenville, a man police say was selling synthetic marijuana. 
Alabama, like many other states, is facing a serious threat from synthetic drugs

It's a new and dangerous generation of drugs and narcotics agents say they're seeing them pop up on the streets more often. 

Spice, synthetic marijuana, and other designer drugs were outlawed several years ago in Alabama but like other narcotics, they have an established distribution network on the streets. 

Spice gives a high similar to marijuana and costs about the same. 

It's a chemical compound that once generated, is usually in a powder form. It's mixed with various solvents and it's sprayed on a leafy material that acts as a binder to hold the substance. Most of the time, it's smoked like marijuana. 

Sgt. Paul Hayes with the Alabama Drug Task force says spice is a "Russian Roulette" of chemicals.

"You really will see this in every environment from major metropolis to rural country roads," he said. "It's on the rise. It's gone from mainly a drug that was sold at gas stations in the open to being distributed just like any other illicit drug. It's definitely found its way here."

The first generation of synthetic cannabanoids that hit the street did cause effects similar to marijuana. But since then, the drugs being marketed, sold, manufactured and distributed as "spice" have changed completely. They are now more closely related to such drugs  as LSD or PCP, causing vivid hallucinations, increased heart rate and increased respiration that lasts for 2-3 hours at times.

"My primary concern is that this is a mass production on an unregulated scale of an unknown chemical basically. It's not in a laboratory controlled environment. It's in bathtubs. It's in plastic vats. It's in cement mixers. And it's one batch after another so you might get two batches that are exactly the same and then you'll get one that will have a different compound," Hayes added.

Butler County drug agents say they're overrun with spice cases. Their latest bust Friday landed 32-year-old Calvin Powell of Greenville in jail for alleging selling synthetic marijuana. 

Powell is facing two counts of Unlawful Distribution of a Controlled Substance and was being held in the Butler County Jail on $40,000 bond late Friday.

Narcotics investigators with the 2nd Judicial Circuit Drug Task DForce say they're seeing just as much spice as they are marijuana. 

"It's on the rise here. It used to be that we had crack cocaine and marijuana and then we starting getting some meth and now we're getting a lot more spice that's coming in here," said Butler County Sheriff Kenny Harden.

In May, "Operation Red Tide," a massive synthetic drug bust, spanned 10 Alabama counties including Dallas, DeKalb, Etowah, Houston, Jefferson, Lee, Madison, Montgomery, Morgan and Shelby and exposed the widespread presence of the drugs in the state.

It netted 38 arrests, the seizure of more than 200 pounds of spice and the confiscation of 19 guns and $500,000 in cash and bank accounts. 

It was part of an ongoing national effort to combat synthetic drugs. The Drug Enforcement Agency's "Project Synergy" is designed to focus on drug networks, their sources of supply and the flow of the drug money on a global scale. 

Spice is often packaged in way that appeals to a younger generation and Sgt. Hayes says there have been numerous cases of children smoking it, causing instant debilitation or death. 

"The danger is credible. It's immediate and it's statewide," he told WSFA.

The silver lining, Hayes said, is that Alabama is on the forefront in the fight against synthetics. Its legislation the strictest in the country when it comes to enforcement capabilities.

"This started in 2011 with Governor Bentley's push to get it out of the gas stations in his executive order. That was followed in 2012 by the first set of legislation and in March of 2014, we passed a law that gave us the most particularly identified compounds but also the families of drugs," Hayes said. 

A federal law is being drafted to mimic Alabama's legislation.  

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