War on "designer drugs" comes to Jersey shore

So-called designer drugs are turning up across the country with deadly results -- and law enforcement officials are having trouble keeping up. CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson recently went along on a big raid on the famous Jersey shore.

Police say they're alarmed at how many young people are turning to these lab-made drugs, which can have more powerful effects than their organic cousins.

The bust occurred on the famous stretch of the Jersey shore made popular by the TV show of the same name -- where teens and college kids come to play, sometimes looking for a high.

The CBS News camera was the only one allowed on a boardwalk bust by local and state police. They were looking for co-called "designer drugs."

Asked directly whether he'd sold drugs that hurt kids, one suspect replied, "I have no idea about this."

Designer drugs have exploded onto the scene on the Jersey shore and across the country. They're lab-engineered to magnify their effects and disguise them in drug tests. They have nicknames like "K-2," which is synthetic marijuana, and "bath salts," which mimic cocaine or meth. Users may become paranoid and ultra-violent.

But when new lab-designed drugs first emerge, they can be perfectly legal. And the federal government can't keep up.

Thomas Calcagni is leading New Jersey's crackdown on bath salt drugs.

Calcagni, director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, when asked if criminals can make a drug faster than the federal government can outlaw it, said, "Listen, these are backyard chemists. All they need to do is switch up the molecular makeup of these drugs just a little bit and they skirt the federal laws."

The Drug Enforcement Administration has outlawed K-2, but not the newer bath salts, which are listed only as chemicals "of concern." The DEA declined to be interviewed, but said in the past that restricting these drugs "can take years."

What's taking the federal government so long?

Calcagni said, "I can't speak to that, but the reality is, we just couldn't wait."

New Jersey and at least 27 other states have banned bath salt drugs. But everywhere else, even a 12-year-old can buy them legally.

Designer drugs are as plentiful as they are dangerous, and have been blamed for unthinkable violence: In Washington State, an army medic shot his wife and himself, their 5-year-old son was found suffocated. In Mississippi, a suspect who allegedly killed a sheriff's deputy was so hyped on bath salts it took six men to hold him down. And in Louisiana, a 21-year-old slashed his own throat and shot himself.

Back in New Jersey, Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd describes the case of a young woman just a week before the bust, allegedly hallucinating on K-2.

Boyd said, "She went into like a delirium, saying there's movies playing in her head. And she was on a third floor balcony and we got up there and she jumped off."

Somehow, she survived.

This summer, raids on 30 New Jersey shops have netted 3,000 packets of designer drugs.

One detective told a suspect, "If it's sold for people want to get high off it, and they come to you to buy it for that reason, it's illegal."

Police say they caught a man selling suspected designer drugs in his shop on the Jersey shore, including the same type that allegedly caused the woman to jump off the third floor.

The suspect arrested on this raid faces third-degree distribution charges for allegedly selling to an undercover officer. He was out on bond the same day. But police say their investigation is continuing. They still haven't figured out how to get at the suppliers who are marketing to the shops and putting the drugs on the street.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.