Woodward, Okla. — Law enforcement officers conducted simultaneous searches of 3 Woodward businesses and one home Friday as part of a crackdown on synthetic drug products.
Dozens of officers from local and state agencies served search warrants on 3 local stores: Lazy's Drive-Thru in the 2100 block of Oklahoma Ave., Tokinz Smoke Shop in the 900 block of Main St.; and Sugar Lips in the 1100 block of 8th St.
Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN), said the searches came after authorities received tips that the stores might be selling illegal synthetic drug products, which are sometimes referred to as "K2," "Spice," and "Bath Salts."
On Friday officers also searched a residence near 13th St. and Cedar Ave.
Woodward said officers will sometimes search the homes of those who own the stores where alleged synthetic drug products are sold because "sometimes at night the owners will take the illegal products home."
The OBN spokesman said the searches resulted in the seizure of "several boxes" containing packages of the alleged synthetic drug products, which have names like "Scooby Snax," "Mad Hatter," "Caution," "Mr. Happy," "Kush" and "Maui Wowie," and range in size from 3 grams to 12 grams.
Some of the products' packaging are printed with phrases like "Legal Herbal Sachet, Does not contain AM2201 or any DEA banned substance" or "Manufacturers and retailers of this product take no responsibility for the incorrect use or misuse of this product."
Woodward said "documents and receipts from the stores are being seized as well."
"The documents seized are those that pertain to the products being sold and shipped, which will help us follow the trail of who the suppliers are," he said.
Woodward said he wasn't aware of any arrests being made as of late Friday afternoon, but officers were "interviewing employees and store owners."
"The analysis of all the evidence and the results of those interviews will dictate what direction we go as far as possible arrests or the filing of charges at a later date," he said.
And while no one may have been arrested Friday, Woodward said, "we do anticipate there will be some arrests and that could include employees and/or owners."
Woodward also made it clear that the action taken by law enforcement officials on Friday "was strictly dealing with those illegal products."
"We are not seizing any of the stores and we are not forcibly shutting any down," he said. "We are simply seizing those products that are illegal so they cannot sell them."
The stores will still be allowed to conduct business, he said.
"Hopefully we've sent a message to these stores, the community and stores across the state that we're going to go after those stores that sell this type of illegal product and do what we can to prevent them from selling it," Woodward said.
STORES CLAIM IT'S LEGAL
Woodward said store owners and employees will claim the product is just incense or potpourri as advertised on the packaging and that if customers choose to smoke it or use it as a drug, that's not their problem.
However, Woodward said that through "display, pricing and conversation," it is "easy to see what their intent is."
"They claim it's incense, but then you look over to their traditional store shelves and see incense selling for $2 to $3 dollars. So then why is this stuff behind the counter and selling for anywhere from $20 to $60?" Woodward said.
A receipt sitting in the window of Lazy's Drive-Thru beside a 4 gram packet of "Scooby Snax Potpourri Hydro," showed that it was sold for $32.65.
When officers approached the store to conduct the search Friday afternoon, they interrupted the sale. The alleged customer was interviewed by officers but later allowed to leave (without the Scooby Snax) because officers said he had used his girlfriend's credit card and signed her name to make the purchase.
While talking with officers though, the man made comments that he didn't know anything about the products being illegal.
"The stores will say what they're selling is legal. But we've conducted undercover buys and sent the product off to the OSBI for testing and they will tell us that it contains one of those illegal chemicals," Woodward said.
The OBN spokesman said that "over the last few years we've identified over 200 chemicals" used in creating synthetic drugs. As more new chemicals are identified, they are added to the state's list of dangerous controlled substances.
However, producers are often one step ahead of the authorities, continually tweaking the chemical composition so that it is slightly different than the previous, illegal versions, Woodward said.
PRODUCTS ARE PROLIFIC AND DEADLY
The problem is that since these products are presented as legal, consumers think they are safe to use, Woodward said.
"Since it's sold at a gas station, people think it's safer to use than street drugs, but the truth is they don't really know what they're getting," Woodward said. "It can be absolutely deadly."
He said there have been at least 2 confirmed deaths in the state from people consuming synthetic drug products.
That is why the OBN and other law enforcement agencies are "really ramping up our investigation into these products," Woodward said. "Because we're seeing more and more of these products and we are seeing more and more people ending up in the hospital because of these products."
"It's a statewide problem," Woodward said.
He noted the OBN has previously led similar synthetic drug searches at stores in Vinita and Yukon and they plan to conduct even more in the coming months.
"In the Yukon-Mustang area, we've identified about 45 stores and there's more in the Tulsa area," Woodward said. "So over the next few months, it's just going to be store after store after store."
One of the undercover agents involved with Friday's searches in Woodward said he had also been involved in similar investigations in Chickasha, which recently netted the first criminal charges in Oklahoma against store owners and clerks for selling synthetic drugs.
He, like Woodward and other agents involved with Friday's searches, seemed hopeful that their efforts here would perhaps result in more charges and send a stronger message to those who think it is okay to sell synthetic drug products.
"Ultimately what we hope to accomplish is to stop these stores from putting these products into our communities," Woodward said.
Note: Agencies involved in Friday's searches included the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, DEA, Woodward Police Department and the Woodward, Dewey and Ellis County Sheriff's offices.