The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced on Wednesday that it has launched its "largest ever" sweep against synthetic drugs, issuing hundreds of search and arrest warrants across the globe.
Law enforcement officials executed more than 150 arrest warrants and nearly 375 search warrants in 35 states, 49 cities and five countries on Wednesday, according to a DEA statement. More than 225 people have been arrested in the United States, Australia, Canada, Barbados and Panama as a result of the crackdown, BBC News reported.
"This is a significant seizure of synthetic drugs and is a terrific result for our respective law enforcement agencies," said Graham Fletcher, Australia's acting ambassador to the United States, in the DEA statement. "Australia remains committed to sharing intelligence with its U.S. partners to combat transnational crime across international borders. This is a win for our collective communities."
The operations targeted trafficking organizations focusing on designer synthetic drugs, that have operated "without regard for the law or public safety."
Designer synthetic drugs are often marketed to teenagers and young adults as herbal incense or other seemingly harmless products, such as bath salts,, but have led to an increase in overdoses and emergency room visits, according to the administration.
"What they (traffickers) care about is lining their pockets on the backs of young people," DEA Chief of Operations James Capra told The Associated Press.
Those who abuse the drugs have suffered from seizures, hallucinations, significant organ damage and in some cases, death, according to the DEA.
"These designer drugs are destructive, dangerous, and are destroying lives," said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, in the statement. "DEA has been at the forefront of the battle against this trend and is targeting these new and emerging drugs with every scientific, legislative, and investigative tool at our disposal."
Since the project began last December, more than 75 arrests have been made and nearly $15 million in cash an assets have been seized, according to DEA officials. More than 550 kilograms, about 1,200 pounds, of drugs have been seized in the last three days.
Of the hundreds arrested on Wednesday, 11 came from Louisiana, according to NOLA.com, including one New Orleans man who was a suspected supplier.
Special Agent Roberto Bryan, a spokesman for the DEA's New Orleans division, told NOLA.com that the division executed 10 search warrants and seized a "large quantity of synthetic marijuana, $500,000 to $600,000 in cash and four vehicles."
And in Gaffney, S.C., authorities arrested a local couple on an indictment charging them with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, according to WCNC.
The businesses owned by Steven Petty, 42, and his wife Sirena Petty, 39, were also listed on the indictment. Officials said they seized $1.4 million from the couple and their businesses, $800,000 of which was in cash in the couple's home, WCNC reported. Authorities also took 20,000 packages of designer drugs from the couple.
Millions of profits from trafficking the designer drugs have ended up in Middle Eastern countries, Capra said, according to the AP.
"The bad guys need money to fund their operations," said Derek Maltz, who heads DEA's special operations division, the AP reports. "The bad guys need money to ... buy their explosives, to buy their guns."