New underground market surfaces for drugs - WFLA News Channel 8

New underground market surfaces for drugs

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Detectives believe an epidemic is fueling a new underground market for synthetic drugs.

Kevin Jackson, Chief Investigator for the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency, says since the county banned substances like K-2, bath salts and spice in February stores have taken it "off the shelves and out of public view."

"Often times you were required to have a code word in order for them to even sell it to you," Jackson said.

On Wednesday, the Consumer Protection Agency, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, and county code enforcement started working together to hand out tickets to those stores suspected of still selling the drugs.

"We are absolutely going to hold people accountable," said Capt. Kyle Cockrean, of the Special Investigations Division at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "It's probably not going away entirely. It's a national epidemic. So it's a huge monster to try to slay. But on the local level - we're just going to try to keep the pressure up and make it as inconvenient as possible within the confines of the law."

Ten different businesses will receive 19 violations this week. It's the first time county code enforcement officers will hand out tickets for synthetic drug violations.

"It becomes a very expensive process for those who are continuing to violate the ordinance," said Dexter Barge, Code Enforcement Director for Hillsborough County.

Enforcers consider each drug packet a separate violation and there's a $500 fine for every one of them sold. If the store violates it twice within a 12 month period, the fine goes up to $1,000 per packet. Barge also said a business that refuses to be compliant could get a $1,000 a day fine as well.

Detectives hope enforcing those will make retailers think twice about selling the banned substances.

"They are making huge profits on this," said Cockrean. "The packets ... can range anywhere from $15 to $50 and that's depending on a lot of different elements. The amount of money invested in the product itself from the manufacturing standpoint is really pennies on the dollar. So it's a huge profit margin."

The American Association of Poison Control Centers said exposure to or ingestion of synthetic drugs resulted in 2,906 emergency medical calls in 2010, 6,959 calls in 2011, and 1,901 calls in the first three months of 2012.

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