A local business was raided last Monday by Lyon County authorities and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for alleged involvement in a synthetic drug ring. The KBI coordinated with local authorities to conduct a seven-month long investigation into the suspected sale of synthetic cannabinoids XR-11 and Ur-144, also known as potpourri, at Blitzed Detox Shop, located at 5 E. 7th Ave, and other business in Kansas.
Richard Old, Lyon County undersheriff, said that the sheriff’s department provided manpower for the raid, but the operation was conducted by the KBI.
“We started the investigation, found that it was larger than we had resources to handle and wanted to go wherever it lead us, so we got involved with the KBI, and they adopted the case,” Old said.
Kyle Smith, deputy director of the KBI, said this is not the first time a drug ring has been discovered in Emporia.
“It’s not like Emporia is any worse or any better – there are always drug rings,” Smith said. “It’s a lucrative business and there are people who are willing to exploit other human beings weaknesses for money. That’s just the nature of the world.”
So far several pounds of synthetic cannabinoids, five cars, a boat, a motorcycle, tools, equipment and more than $100,000 in cash have been seized as evidence, according to a KBI press release. Smith said he wasn’t aware of the drug ring’s involvement in any other states, but that the drugs were imported from China.
Jonathan Pope of Emporia and Benjamin Huff of El Dorado were arrested on one count each of distribution of controlled substance, possession of controlled substance and drug tax violation, the press release said.
Synthetic cannabinoids, which consist of a “variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana,” are sold under many names, including “spice, K2, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks,” and others, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website. The kind sold at Blitzed Detox Shop is called “Diablo.”
Because they do not show up in urine or blood tests, Smith said synthetic drugs are popular among people who are on probation or those who work at jobs where they are required to take drug tests.
“One of the dangers is that it’s a legal drug,” Smith said. “It’s not legal because the FDA tested it and found it to be safe and appropriate. It’s legal because somebody just came up with it in a laboratory in China.”
These drugs are often marketed as legal alternatives to marijuana and contain shredded plant material and synthetic, chemical additives that cause psychoactive effects, according to NIDA. The Drug Enforcement Administration has identified the five chemicals most frequently found in these products as Schedule 1 controlled substances.
“People are finding a way to create a compound that has that essential cannabinoid structure (found in marijuana), but it’s got enough additional atoms added or deleted that it’s not one of the (chemicals) found on the controlled substance list,” Smith said.
But according to NIDA, manufacturers of fake drugs “attempt to evade these legal restrictions by substituting different chemicals in their mixtures, while the DEA continues to monitor the situation and evaluate the need for updating the list of banned cannabinoids.”
“It’s one of those things where technology has the tendency to outplay its legislation,” said Casey Woods, director of Emporia Main Street. “When you’re dealing with synthetic materials, it takes a while for legislation to catch up with the technology that allowed the local police and the KBI to actually do something about what was occurring.”
Woods said Blitzed Detox Shop was not a member of the Main Street organization and that the Emporia community is welcoming and open for most business types as long as they are benefiting the community.
On July 23, UR-144 was placed on the controlled substances list, Smith said.
The investigation began with undercover agents purchasing several types of potpourri from Blitzed Detox Shop and All Out Detox and Price Right Smoke Shop/JKL Liquor in El Dorado, according to the KBI press release. Authorities also investigated emergency room admissions for persons being admitted to the hospital after using the fake drugs, as well as financial records.
Search warrants were then executed on the businesses and authorities seized additional synthetic products, drug paraphernalia and money.
“Evidence found at those locations led to search warrants at the residences of the owners and other businesses in Emporia, Arkansas City and El Dorado including C&J Wholesale where what appears to be a packaging operation was seized, as well as an additional undercover purchase of a controlled substance at a retail location in Wichita,” the press release stated.
“In a small town you have businesses that ask questions, and I know that we’d had community members who had forwarded questions to our police department and asked us questions on occasion, but I don’t think anyone was aware that a formal investigation was occurring,” Woods said.
Officials with the Emporia Police Department said that they were aware an investigation was going on, but Emporia police did not have any part in it. Chris Hoover, director of campus Police and Safety, said campus police were also notified of the investigation.
Hoover said he recommends synthetic drugs of any kind should be avoided at all costs.
“I’m not advocating for marijuana by any means,” Hoover said, “but I would suggest that marijuana’s probably a fairly tried and proven substance and people could anticipate a particular response or reaction…these new compounds, there’s no way to even begin to imagine what the outcome might be. I just think they are incredibly dangerous.”