SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team and the Drug Enforcement Administration are sending out a warning after a joint operation lead to a large seizure of synthetic cannabinoids.
The Task Force says two businesses in Savannah were selling these products - The Tobacco Palace on Montgomery Crossroads and The Tobacco Palace on Abercorn Street.
This investigation has been going on now for five months. It all began when a concerned mother went to the Tybee Island Police Department regarding an overdose or reaction involving her child. That juvenile reportedly ingested “Kronic Juice” which is a form of synthetic cannabis or fake weed. The joint investigation between the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team and the Drug Enforcement Administration determined that the “Kronic Juice” was purchased from the Tobacco Palace on East Montgomery Crossroads.
Through the investigation, they found multiple drug-related overdoses linked to high school-aged students throughout Chatham County that were similar to the incident on Tybee Island.
The synthetic marijuana is human-made and can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes or other devices. It is often marketed as a safe alternative to marijuana, which law enforcement says is false.
Since the chemicals used in the products have no medical benefit, authorities have made it illegal to sell, buy, or possess some of the chemicals. However, manufacturers try to sidestep the laws.
“The people manufacturing this stuff have tried to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Changing one compound every month or so by the time Georgia legislature made it illegal, they would change one compound and formula and then it wasn’t illegal anymore," said Everett Ragan, Director. “We do know there is a quantity of this that is patent and trademarked like the ones we bought at both stores that came back at schedule one. When you look at schedule one, you’re looking at the same thing as heroin. You’re looking at the same thing as LSD.”
Undercover CNT and DEA agents made multiple undercover purchases of various synthetic cannabis from the two Tobacco Palace locations. Investigators say the products were all hidden behind the counter and had to be asked for by name. The purchased items were then sent to the Georgia Bureau of investigation Crime Lab and returned positive for a schedule 1 controlled substance. The investigators then conducted search warrants for each business. More products are now being tested at the GBI Crime Lab.
“Hopefully, it will open the eyes of some of the other distributors that this is not an innocent product. This is really making our kids sick. It’s addicting our kids to drugs.”
More than $18,000 was also seized from those businesses. Hitesh Jayant Patel, 42, of Richmond Hill, Georgia turned himself in to police. Patel has been charged with one count Sale of a Controlled Substance (Schedule I).
District Attorney Meg Heap says so far, these synthetic drugs have been linked to students at four area schools.
“The families that have contacted me, the parents, are like, 'we don’t know what to do. They’re buying it. they are going in there and buying this stuff and there is no way to test for it," Heap said.
That’s the problem many parents are running into. Synthetic Cannabis is hard to detect.
“It’s odorless, and you can’t test for drugs with this. They finally realize what is going on when the kid is in dire state and has to be put into a rehab because of this controlled substance.”
“Most of this stuff can be used in vape pens or a one time smoke device. but the increase in vaping has increased inventory that these people supply," Ragan said.
Doctors at Memorial Health say it doesn’t matter which form you use the synthetics in - they are all dangerous.
“The problems with these products is they are synthetic and you really don’t know what;s in these products. They come from all over. They come from Asia and Europe. They are getting packaged and being brought into the United States," said Dr. Jay Goldstein, Emergency Medicine.
Dr. Goldstein says they have seen a lot of causes here in Savannah, and the lasting effects can be very bad.
“It’s pretty astonishing. It will start off with someone coming in with paranoia or anxiety or complete psychosis where they are. We have had suicidal thoughts, depression, and then you read reports and hear about sudden heart attacks, sudden death," Dr. Goldstein said.
That’s why law enforcement is taking this extremely serious.
“They have a choice to sell it or not sell it. If they sell it, then they will be held accountable. It is a crime. It is a controlled substance, and we are going to hold you accountable, so hopefully the other stores will get the message to stop it."
Law enforcement and doctors say it’s important to educate your children on these substances and make sure they know what they are. The drugs come in colorful bags so it makes them look even that more inviting.