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Officers spread the word on synthetic drug dangers; some shops close

Jennifer Sprouse • Mar 23, 2012 at 9:02 AM

While many law enforcement officers are staying busy battling synthetic drugs, other officers are busy informing the public about the dangers of the drugs.

Johnson City Police Department Lt. Steve Sherfey of Criminal Investigations is one of those talking about drugs at forums and community meetings.

Sherfey made his fourth stop at First Presbyterian Church Thursday night to speak about bath salts, K2 and their effects on people in the community.

“We had groups that really didn’t know what the drugs were,” he said. “They saw people run in and out of the stores and people were overdosing.”

Hoping to do more forums with churches and community groups in the area, Sherfey said he sees the forums continuing.

“What we’re trying to do is get support for people to contact their representatives to get a state law that’s similar to what Virginia has, but even at that, it’s readily available on the Internet,” he said. “What I’m afraid of is people will start just buying off the Internet and selling (synthetic drugs) like cocaine.”

Sherfey said looking at these drugs from a business standpoint, people will continue to supply the drugs wherever there is a demand for them.

“You can drive by one of the businesses and see how much business there is,” he said. “As long as people are wanting it and they can make money off of it, they’re going to get it.”

With the raids at local head shops on Wednesday, Sherfey said he is unsure which shops are still open and which are closed.

“We’re still investigating the rest of them,” Sherfey said. “We’re going to go around and check to see who’s open now or what’s still open.”

At least two shops in Johnson City were closed as of Thursday. Magic Mushroom on West Market Street was closed and its sign was removed from the building. A note on the door to Cloud 9 on Oakland Avenue indicated the shop was closed.

Sherfey said a federal statute has enabled them to work under federal law to investigate the synthetic drugs being sold in the shops.

“It covers synthetic cannabinoids and so we can use federal off of that, but we still have to have these drugs analyzed to see what it comes back as,” he said. “It’s a synthetic drug. It doesn’t have a baseline ... like cocaine or marijuana.”

He said having drugs like bath salts and K2 analyzed for their ingredients at the state level can take a while to get results back.

“That’s why we got the (Drug Enforcement Administration) to help us. They can ship it to their lab and get it back much quicker,” Sherfey said.

He said synthetic drug incidents have been accounted for since May of last year and they saw a spike in numbers around December and January, with a total of 39 incidents involving bath salts in February alone.

“We will continue, of course, investigating anywhere that there’s synthetic drugs and we’re still going to push for ... tougher laws on the state side, because right now it’s a misdemeanor charge,” Sherfey said.

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