By Austin L. Miller
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi addressed members of the community and local law enforcement officials Friday about the dangers of synthetic drugs, which she said are more lethal than cocaine.
Bondi was the guest speaker at the event held at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Multi-Purpose conference room, which was attended by about 200 people. She was introduced by Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn.
Bondi said she has been traveling throughout the state to promote awareness and education about “deadly” synthetic drugs.
The drugs often are sold as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana. The packaging often targets a younger demographic.
To woo young children, teenagers and young adults, Bondi said, the manufacturers use popular characters, like Scooby Doo.
“You have to be vigilant,” she said.
Bondi said the majority of emergency room trips related to the drugs are made by people between the ages of 12 and 29.
She said the drugs, which come from Asia to the U.S., first surfaced in Florida in the Panhandle area, but quickly spread to other counties.
Bondi said as soon as her office outlaws a component used to manufacture the drugs, making them illegal, the makers just change the formula. Approximately two years ago, she said, there were only about six compounds outlawed. That number is now roughly 100 compounds.
Bondi said one of the tools she uses in the war against the drugs is to sign emergency orders banning them.
“I’ll sign an emergency order every day if I have to,” she said.
Sheriff Chris Blair said partnership is the key to stopping the drugs’ popularity.
Blair added that DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers can help teach children about the dangers of the synthetic drugs.
Lt. Butch Green of the Ocala Police Department, a member of the Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team, said the city’s ordinance outlawing the sale of synthetic drugs has made a difference.
The city of Belleview will have a first reading Tuesday to adopt the city of Ocala’s ordinance.
Marion County and the city of Dunnellon do not currently have ordinances banning the drugs.
Bill Gladsen, assistant state attorney, said agents go to local stores and ask owners and workers to sign a document saying that if the products are sold in their store they will be prosecuted, which makes their job easier when it comes to prosecution.
The session was opened up to the public and Jamie Bissell asked what can be done to prevent people from delivering the drugs, or parents buying them for their children.
Bondi told Bissell he can call law enforcement if he knows of such instances, and said she will continue to sign emergency orders to stop the drugs.
After the event, which lasted about 40 minutes, Police Chief Robert Douglas, of the Chiefland Police Department, said that in the past two days his agency has confiscated roughly 2,000 grams of synthetic drugs.