Feds raid downtown businesses, seize synthetic drugs


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U.S. federal government drug officials could be seen in several eastern Iowa communities Wednesday, on hand to halt the sale of synthetic drugs.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced Wednesday that the “global takedown” initiative, known as Project Synergy, has ended with 150 arrest warrants and roughly 375 searches in 49 cities since beginning in December.

Project Synergy was coordinated by DEA’s Special Operations Division, working with the DEA Office of Diversion Control, and included cases led by DEA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, and IRS.

More than $15 million in cash and assets have been seized.

Synthetic-drug products are often marketed as herbal incense, jewelry cleaner, bath salts, or plant food, and have caused significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency-room visits. 

Common side effects include vomiting, anxiety, agitation, irritability, seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. They are also known to cause significant organ damage and deaths related to overdose use.

The Den, 123 E. Washington St., and the In-Zone, 116 E. Washington St., known locally for inexpensive soda prices and Hawkeye apparel, were among the numerous raid locations. Both sell synthetic products.

A number of Cedar Rapids and Waterloo establishments were also among raided locations.

Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla said the long-planned raids were a culmination of an investigation of sales of K2, bath salts, “spice,” and related products sold at the businesses and began at approximately 9:30 a.m.

She confirmed a search warrant at one of the two businesses was enacted in 2012.

Zombies Tobacco Accessories, 316 E. Burlington St., was not a part of the raid but is undergoing investigation, she said.

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said because the investigation is being handled at the federal level, no arrests will be made until national actions proceed.

Additional raids of similar local establishments could result if they continue to sell the synthetic substances and items, he said.

“Additional businesses that continue to sell it should take what happened today as an example,” he said. “We’ve got something like 40 state, federal, and local narcotics working on this.”

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