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Synthetic Drug Crackdown Focus of Proposed County Ordinance

Hillsborough government and law enforcement officials want to stem the tide of designer drugs marketed to teens.

A Safety Harbor teen on K2 drowned earlier this year. More than 300 overdoses were reported in Hillsborough County in 2011. And thousands of calls were placed to the Florida Poison Control Centers.

These were the details ticked off by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s officials during Wednesday’s Hillsborough County Commission meeting. The goal was to impart the dangers of synthetic drugs.

“This (continued production of K2) is going to have a staggering effect on our community resources,” said Maj. Tom Feeney, commander of the special investigations division of the sheriff's office. “Collectively law enforcement, the medical profession, and certainly rehabilitation.”

Synthetic drugs known as “K2” or “Spice” are commonly sold at convenience stores.

The drugs often consist of tea leaves immersed in chemicals that produce hallucinogenic tendencies similar to THC, or the the psychoactive agent found in marijuana.

The drugs have been known to create increased anxiety, kidney failure and seizures. The synthetic drug can stay in a person's system for up to 30 days, Feeney said.

On Wednesday, county commissioners took a step towards remedying the problem of designer drugs in Hillsborough by discussing a proposed ordinance meant to curb the manufacturing and use of the drugs.  

"We have a grave, grave issue in our community that's kind of been kept quiet," said Commissioner Les Miller, who introduced the synthetic drug ordinance. "It's called synthetic drugs. It is a dangerous, dangerous drug."

Miller said he called a meeting with the sheriff’s office and county attorney's office to discuss this issue and effects it had in Tampa Bay’s community before coming to the board with a proposal for an ordinance.

The problem was more serious than Miller realized.

“It blew all of us away,” Miller said.

The drugs, which often go by youth-friendly names like “Scooby Snax” and “Mind Candy”  are easily found at neighborhood convenience stores. Teens are often the targets, Feeney said, noting the the stores make upwards of $30,000 a year on the sale of the drugs.

Earlier this year the state legislature passed HB 1175, which essentially outlawed an expansive list of synthetic substances used to create K2. However, synthetic drug makers found a way around the law by using different chemicals.

In April, a warehouse located at 6308 Benjamin Road near Westchase was . Deputies found large quantities of synthetic drugs – months after the state law had been passed.

If the county moves forward with passing its own ordinance, manufacturers and stores that deal in K2 or Spice would find themselves in violation of a local law. Those violations would constitute a second-degree misdemeanor, said Chris Brown, legal counsel for the sheriff's office. That means 60 days in jail or a $500 maximum fine.

After Wednesday's presentation, the commission directed the county attorney's office to work with Brown and Feeney on drafting an ordinance to address the synthetic drug problem. It is unclear when the ordinance will be complete, but Feeney said the office would update the commission on its progress.

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