AG Kelly & PSP Commissioner Noonan announce "Operation Artificial High;" statewide crackdown on dangerous synthetic drugs
HARRISBURG - Attorney General Linda Kelly and State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan today announced that narcotics agents and troopers, along with local police officers in communities across Pennsylvania, have executed more than 50 search warrants as part of a statewide crackdown on the trafficking and sale of dangerous synthetic drugs.
The Pennsylvania investigation, known as "Operation Artificial High," is being conducted in conjunction with a national initiative focusing on businesses that sell synthetic marijuana, "bath salts" and related drug paraphernalia.
Kelly and Noonan said search warrants were executed at numerous residences, convenience stores, gas stations, smoke shops and other similar businesses located in Philadelphia, Allegheny, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery, Northampton, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
"These man-made chemicals have triggered a wave of bizarre and violent reactions, medical emergencies and deaths across the country since they began appearing on the street in 2009," Kelly said. "Despite innocent sounding names like 'Bliss' or 'Vanilla Sky', these drugs can combine the worst qualities of traditional street drugs like LSD, cocaine or methamphetamine."
"Clearly, these are very dangerous drugs," said Noonan. "With the many different chemical blends on the market, people have no idea what's actually in the package or the potency of the drug."
Kelly and Noonan explained that possession and sale of these synthetic drugs was outlawed in Pennsylvania by legislation passed in 2011.
"Let this be a warning, if you are dealing or using - we will arrest you," said Noonan. "This crackdown should send a serious message across Pennsylvania, these drugs can kill and we are taking action."
Agents and troopers made a series of undercover purchases, recorded transactions and surveillance to identify many of the individuals and businesses allegedly involved in the illegal distribution and sale of synthetic drugs and drug-related materials.
"Our message is clear - these substances were prohibited because they are a threat to the health and safety of our communities, "Kelly said. "This ban cannot be skirted by rebranding these hazardous drugs as 'window cleaner,' 'plant food,' 'incense','not for human consumption' or moving them behind the counter."
Wednesday's searches across Pennsylvania resulted in the seizure of more than 300,000 individual doses of synthetic marijuana and illegal bath salts, with an estimated street value of $1.25 million. Additionally, more than 50,000 pieces of drug paraphernalia related to the smoking or consumption of synthetic drugs were seized, along with approximately $250,000 in cash and assets.
Kelly and Noonan noted that the investigation is active and ongoing and criminal charges are anticipated.
Kelly said the Pennsylvania investigation involves agents and prosecutors from the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Strike Force programs; members of the Pennsylvania State Police; the offices of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr., Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie J. Salavantis, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, Washington County District Attorney Eugene A. Vittone and Westmoreland County District Attorney John W. Peck; the Philadelphia Police Department; Allegheny County Police Department; City of Pittsburgh Police Department; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Postal Inspectors, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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