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Synthetic Drug Use Down One Year After Raids

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Operation Log Jam hit Sioux Falls one year ago. It consisted of local and federal agents raiding "Roll With It" tobacco shops and seizing tens of thousands of grams of synthetic drugs.

Today those shops are out of business, and authorities say they've taken the bulk of those drugs off the streets of Sioux Falls. Police also think fewer people are using them.

"There was a lot of synthetic marijuana that was seized. And I mean we're talking a huge amount," Officer Sam Clemens with the Sioux Falls Police Department said.

Authorities found more than 10,000 grams of K2 in July 2012, and nearly 22,000 grams in December. That's about 70 pounds of synthetic drugs. Both months were ties to Operation Log Jam. But before those busts, police say there was a different mentality among users.

"I can go into a store and buy this. It's legal. It's not marijuana, that's illegal. But I can buy this stuff and use it and that's okay," Clemens said.

Last year, Governor Dennis Daugaard signed a bill into law banning entire families of chemicals used to make these drugs.

"It's pretty much dropped off completely. We're not seeing any local product," Clemens added.

The proof is in the numbers. Looking at what police seized each month of 2012, versus what they've seen so far this year, it becomes clear that K2 is no longer the drug of choice.

"People have turned back to the marijuana and methamphetamine," Clemens said.

But police have still found small amounts, meaning some people are still experimenting with synthetic drugs.

Dennis Ford, who is the executive director at Tallgrass Recovery and Sober Living Homes, says he started seeing those users three years ago.

"It's very rare for us today to see, for lack of a better word, a pure alcoholic that only abuses alcohol, or a pure marijuana addict, or a pure heroin addict. There's usually a hierarchy of use," Executive Director Dennis Ford said.

And somewhere, mixed in with other drug abuse, is synthetic drugs.

Ford says many people smoked K2 because they thought it was safe. It's advertised online as "herbal incense," or "spice," that is "100 percent natural, with no chemicals." But because it is synthetic, or man-made, detoxing can be tough.

"Most of the time, they really don't know what they've taken and it can be anything. So medical supervision is necessary," Ford added.

Now that the product is off store shelves in Sioux Falls, he sees fewer people from the area using it.

But as fast as this product hit the market, it seems to have gone away with the same speed; meaning something new and different, and just as dangerous, can come along just as quick.

"It causes us to stay pretty alert to what we're dealing with," Ford said.

"Something else is going to come along. It's happened over the years. There have been a lot of different types of synthetic drugs," Clemens said.

And whether someone is making it from home, or buying it online, it's still possible to get your hands on the drugs. But both Clemens and Ford say they think more people are making smarter choices.

"The fact is kids experiment. And some of them are smart enough to stop and some of them aren't," Ford said.

Operation Log Jam was the first-ever nationwide law enforcement action against the synthetic designer drug industry.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says nine people were arrested and charged in connection with the raid in Sioux Falls. Two have pleaded guilty and are waiting for sentencing. The other seven have entered not guilty pleas and will face a jury trial in September.
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