Kansas law enforcement officers seized herbal potpourri from three Salina businesses and one alleged supplier even as federal agents nationwide were embarking on an unrelated crackdown against manufacturers and sellers of synthetic designer drugs.


 Kansas law enforcement officers seized herbal potpourri from three Salina businesses and one alleged supplier even as federal agents nationwide were embarking on an unrelated crackdown against manufacturers and sellers of synthetic designer drugs.

The Salina Journal (http://bit.ly/SW4gw6) reported Thursday that no arrests were made during the Salina seizures, which were conducted Wednesday by the I-135-I-70 Drug Task Force. Separately, the Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday seized more than $36 million in cash and arrested 91 people in the nationwide crackdown.

In Salina, the businesses voluntarily handed over their supplies after being informed of a ban on chemical substance UR 144 that went into effect in Kansas on Monday, Lt. Jim Norton, commander of the I-135-I-70 Drug Task Force, said. Police were holding the seized items as evidence.

"The owners believed they were selling legal drugs that are not controlled," Norton said. "That was true until Monday, when it became controlled."

A local business that was importing large quantities of the substance and supplying it to other stores was notified of that change Wednesday, he said.

While officers were in the stores seizing the synthetic drugs, several people came in seeking to buy herbal potpourri, he said.

Salina police started seeing cases of people overdosing on herbal potpourri, considered an alternative to marijuana, and another designer drug called bath salts in spring 2010.

Salina's police chief testified in January 2011 before a legislative committee against the synthetics, calling them mind-altering, dangerous drugs. The Legislature later passed a bill to make it illegal to manufacture, sell, distribute or possess seven classes of chemicals known to be applied to dried plant material and sold as "herbal potpourri" or "incense."

That law worked to keep local sales of the designer drugs out of Salina for about a year, Norton said. When they started emerging again several months ago, police started buying quantities of the drugs at the three stores for lab testing.

Norton said tests showed the substances being sold were a new class of chemical that wasn't covered by the earlier state ban. That led the police department, Johnson County crime lab and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to seek an emergency order to take them off the streets.

The Kansas Board of Pharmacy approved a temporary ban on UR 144 a week ago; the Legislative Joint Committee on Rules and Regulations voted Monday to put it into effect immediately.

Dr. Keir Swisher, co-medical director of Salina Regional Health Center's emergency department, said large numbers of people having bad reactions to herbal potpourri and bath salts started showing up in the emergency room in September 2000.

Swisher compared patients he was seeing in Salina during the initial wave of herbal potpourri and bath salts usage to PCP and crack addicts he had regularly treated at a Chicago hospital. He said he had no doubt that long-term usage could cause permanent damage to the brain and other body systems.

The Salina hospital hadn't seen an herbal potpourri patient for four or five months before a resurgence that started about six weeks ago. In the last month-and-a-half, Swisher said, an average of two to three patients per week were being brought in, including a 15-year-old who bought the herbal potpourri locally.

Norton said herbal potpourri, with all of its chemicals, is more like PCP than marijuana. But because it's marketed as an alternative to marijuana, users don't realize they can overdose on it.

"It mimics PCP with a rapid heart rate, aggression, agitation and breathing problems," Norton said. "The issues it's causing to people's bodies are unbelievable. It has to be stopped."