CROWN POINT | Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller gave a personal push Tuesday to a statewide initiative geared toward removing a growing plethora of synthetics drugs from retailers' shelves.
Zoeller joined Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter in announcing retailers that sell "bath salts" and other synthetic drugs will face civil and criminal sanctions, including losing their livelihood for a year.
A new state law outlawed selling such synthetic drugs as "bath salts" and "spice," which mirror the highs associated with marijuana or cocaine. The drugs are sold in the guise of such products as "plant food," "potpourri" and incense.
The drugs are labeled as not for human consumption but are taken orally, inhaled or injected. Bath salts, spice and novelty powders are street names associated with synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids. They are sold in small packets for $20 to $50 by retailers, Zoeller said.
According to the Chicago Customs and Border Protection Lab, this summer the Chicago lab analyzed an unknown beige power and identified it as a substance similar to Ecstasy.
Three new imported synthetic marijuana and methamphetamine derivatives were found to be coming into the United States, according to a news release from the lab.
William Wagner, of the CBP Laboratory, is quoted as saying the chemical compounds of synthetic drugs arriving from overseas is in some cases 100 to 800 times more potent than the natural counterpart. Side effects can include elevated heart rates, paranoia, vomiting, severe agitation and hallucinations.
The statewide notice details the civil penalties faced by those who violate the Indiana Controlled Substances Act. They range from fines to paying the fees necessary to test the substances to revoking retail merchant certificates to seizing inventory and assets.
Violators also risk criminal charges ranging from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony.
Zoeller is concerned the tough actions won't fix the problem because the drugs now are being sold underground as well as in the open.
Carter said Lake County is experiencing a big problem with users having been hospitalized and their minds altered.
"Our job is to try to prevent young people from hurting themselves," he said, adding identifying the substances is costly to crime labs and prosecution is difficult.
The chemical makeup of the drugs may be altered to reflect substances not on the list to skirt the law.
Porter County officials say the problem hasn't reached stores in the county.
"We're not aware of any retail establishments where these things are being sold," Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said Tuesday. "We're paying close attention but right now there aren't any."
Porter County Sheriff David Lain said Valparaiso had a single episode before the drugs became illegal. "But that station is gone," he said.