Natasha Vargas-Cooper reaches deep into “the heart America’s new drug nightmare” (which is, ahem, bath salts), for SPIN:
COLUMBUS, OH— On an unseasonably hot and muggy May afternoon, a squad of armed agents from the Franklin County Drug Task Force — some wearing street clothes, some wearing menacing ski masks — swarms into a storefront aptly named the Joint. Sandwiched between a liquor store and a sex shop, and adjacent to the Ohio State University campus, the Joint is one of 18 different head shops, gas stations, carryout restaurants, and mini-marts being searched this day by seven task force teams consisting of several dozen officers from numerous local police departments and prosecutors’ offices, all spearheaded by the County Sheriff here in the state capital.
Make no mistake: This is no ordinary pot bust. The raids are part of the ongoing Operation Synthetic Drugs, a highly coordinated and choreographed sweep through central Ohio. The target of this operation — which has received assistance from the DEA and the FBI — is a strand of a relatively obscure but insidiously metastasizing illegal substance marketed under the name “bath salts,” a deceptively innocuous moniker used to disguise the drug as a benign household product.
As small knots of sweaty tweakers gape from across the street, visibly frustrated that one of their favorite haunts is being hit, the law-enforcement troops inside the Joint hit pay dirt. After a meticulous, two-and-a-half-hour ceiling-to-floor toss, the cops emerge with a bulging Hefty bag and cardboard cartons brimming with $70,000 worth of synthetic marijuana known as Spice and what they assume to be bath salts, the latter being sold in little foil packets. By the time night falls, the task force teams seize $250,000 in illegal synthetic drugs in the greater Columbus area. Selling and possessing bath salts in Ohio is a felony, yet due to loopholes in state and federal laws, the anonymity of the Internet, and the pace at which the chemicals can be altered, prosecuting anyone above a street-level seller and buyer currently poses a stiff challenge…
[continues at SPIN]