Synthetic marijuana seized in Vermilion

Authorities seized almost 2,000 packages of synthetic marijuana from stores throughout the state, including four in Vermilion County, in three undercover operations conducted last month by the Illinois attorney general's office and local law enforcement agencies.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office on Friday detailed the undercover operations, dubbed "Operation Smoke Out," with law enforcement officials and prosecutors at a series of presentations on the state's work to address the rising number of young people using synthetic drugs.

The chemically-laced substances are akin to marijuana and cocaine and can be found for sale at convenience stores, gas stations and tobacco shops across the state. They are responsible for a number of injuries and deaths in Illinois and across the United States.

"We are only at the beginning of this battle to protect young people from these deadly products," Madigan said. "In order to ensure a strong, effective response to these drugs, law enforcement officials are prosecutors in every county of Illinois need to be empowered with information and other resources to fight this emerging epidemic."

Partnering with Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn, Adams County Sheriff Brent Fischer and Bond County Sheriff Jeff Brown, investigators from Madigan's office conducted store "sweeps" in the three counties in late December to determine if retailers were selling the banned products. Test results from the Illinois State Police crime lab showed the presence of Schedule 1 substances or their analogs in the purchased products, which prompted 1,956 packages with a street value of $41,620 to be confiscated, according to Madigan's office.

Investigators confiscated the following number of packages at the following stores in Vermilion County:

— 378 from BP Gas, 901 Vermilion St., Danville.

— 17 from BP Gas, 101 N. Gilbert St., Danville.

— 491 from DP Pit Stop, 445 Vermilion St., Danville.

— 108 from the Hoopeston Convenient Mart, 714 Orange St., Hoopeston.

Investigators also confiscated 534 packages containing synthetic cannabis from a store in Quincy in Adams County and 428 from two stores in Pocahontas in Bond County.

According to Madigan, synthetic drug abuse is on the rise, and poison control centers across the United States have noted a dramatic rise in calls about synthetic marijuana and "bath salts," another type of synthetic drug containing chemical compounds mimicking the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine.

In 2011, she said, poison control centers nationwide received 6,890 calls related to synthetic marijuana use, up from 2,915 calls in 2010. In 2011, they received 6,072 calls about bath salts, up from 303 calls the previous year.

While Illinois and other states passed laws banning specific formulas of synthetic marijuana and bath salts, Madigan said that drug manufacturers attempted to sidestep the laws by replacing the banned chemicals with other ones and stated on their packaging that their products do not contain the banned ingredients.

Madigan said those drugs are extremely dangerous because users don't know what chemicals they are consuming. She also said that individual products can contain a wide range of chemical formulations and potencies, some of which can be two to 500 times stronger than THC, the principal psychoactive component of cannabis.

A new law that took effect Jan. 1 makes it a felony to have products containing chemicals that are structural derivatives of the previously-banned chemicals, Madigan said. She added her office is working with law enforcement to educate retailers about the products and that they are likely to contain the banned substances.