MARIETTA - Area businesses could be selling drugs and getting away with it on a technicality.
Drug distributers are continuing to tweak the components of drugs like K2 and bath salts in an attempt to stay ahead of the law, according to local law enforcement on both sides of the river.
Recently, the Wood County Sheriff's Office came into possession of a package of K2 from the Pioneer Adult Book Store on Emerson Avenue, said Shawn Graham, chief deputy for the sheriff's office
Det. Dave Tornes, evidence technician for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, shows bottles of K2 that the office has confiscated from dealers. It is possible the drug is still being sold legally at some area businesses because of loopholes in the law. (Photo by Jasmine Rogers)
"We had an individual bring us down a package he got from the bookstore," he said.
No one at the book store was able to be reached Friday.
Graham said the sample is still being tested, and there is always the possibility the drug will test as something legal.
"We would love to put these places out of business," he said. "A lot of the problem is with the law itself. They need to make it more broad and encompass all the chemicals involved."
Law enforcement officials describe K2 as synthetic marijuana and the chemicals in bath salts as a combination similar to methamphetamines and cocaine. They are marketed as a variety of products, such as incense or spa-like remedies, but are typically ingested or smoked, according to officials.
Drugs like K2 and bath salts are created chemically, and the law attempts to address the drugs by outlawing specific chemicals and chemical combinations, explained Major Brian Schuck of the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
"All they do is change the chemical and bypass the laws that are in place," he said.
It has created a frustrating game of constant catch-up, said Det. Sgt. Greg Collins of the Parkersburg Police Department.
The department has run into the problem where they conduct undercover buys of K2 that tests negative at the state crime lab for the substances considered illegal, said Collins.
"We're still having a lot of trouble getting the lab testing to a point where it supports where we're doing," he said. "We're seizing bath salts that we know are a dangerous substance, but because the West Virginia State Crime Lab hasn't caught up with that particular formula, it's not illegal."
Both drugs were banned in West Virginia in April 2011 and in Ohio in October 2011. The drugs came to popularity locally in early 2011 and before the bans they were sold legally in many stores. At one point, Marietta Memorial Hospital officials estimated they were seeing between three to five emergency room visits a week because of the drugs.
One of the biggest problems is that both K2 and bath salts are causing erratic and dangerous behaviors in the users, said Graham.
"We had a guy that broke into the Pioneer Adult Bookstore a couple months ago. When we got there, he was on the roof of the building smoking the product," he said.
The product was sent for testing, but at the time of the arrest, it did not contain the ingredients that would have labeled it illegal, Graham said.
Just two weeks ago the office arrested a man who was threatening family members with a gun, said Graham. What officers suspect to be bath salts were found in the residence, he said.
Patients on bath salts are often paranoid, hyperactive and hyper reactive to things. They can also become disillusioned, said Dr. Dan Breece, medical director of the Emergency Department at Marietta Memorial Hospital.
K2, or spice, has the opposite effect, where an overdose can cause the user to appear to be in a coma, he said.
"There is always a danger of death or overdose," said Breece.
Furthermore, the drugs are not moderated by any governing body, so they could literally contain anything, said Breece.
A couple indicted in December in Washington County for selling K2 out of their Franklin Street residence were thought to be cutting the drug with acetone, said Schuck.
Stephen M. Partin, 22, and Sarah A. Partin, 21, are set to go to trial Wednesday and Thursday for fifth-degree felony charges of possession of criminal tools and selling drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
At the time it was found, the K2 being sold by the Partins was not on the banned substance list.
The drug does appear to be losing some of its popularity, said Capt. Jeff Waite of the Marietta Police Department.
"It's still around. We know that. But it's not in as great a demand as it once was," he said.
Schuck said he was not aware of any businesses in Washington County selling the drug. However, the task force has bought the drug from individuals who often purchase it on the Internet, he said.
Breece added that there are far fewer instances of people showing up in the ER than there had been when the drugs first surged to popularity more than a year ago. But law enforcement agencies are still hoping laws will broaden to make the drugs easier to combat.
"If this stuff that they sell isn't illegal technically, what do you do? It's very frustrating, but it doesn't mean we're going to give up," said Graham.