HAMILTON, Ohio - Three people are facing charges after Hamilton police seized thousands of packets worth of synthetic drugs from several local businesses.
Hamilton police said officers served 19 search warrants at six businesses and nine homes on Thursday in Butler and Hamilton counties.
Officers said they seized more than 51,600 packets of synthetic drugs with a value of more than $1 million. Police also found drug paraphernalia, $210,000 in cash and four handguns during the operation.
Detectives said the seizures were the result of a long-term investigation into the trafficking of synthetic marijuana.
Officials said the businesses targeted in the operation included: Wireless A, Pleasant Avenue Wireless & Smoke Shop, CK Wireless, Bonkerz and the EZ Wireless Store.
In addition to those shops, Hamilton police and the Ohio Investigative Unit said they were looking into trafficking at the Sycamore Market.
During the course of the investigation, police said they arrested 30-year-old Tariq Mosa Abuawad of Fairfield, 21-year-old Erin Leona Wilson of Oxford, and 27-year-old Tareq Ahmed Saleem Odeh of Mount Auburn.
Officers said Abuawad faces drug charges after agents found synthetic marijuana at the Sycamore Market where he was working.
Wilson was arrested on drug charges, when police served a warrant at 938 Main St. in Hamilton. Officers said they found a baggie of marijuana in her purse.
Odeh was charged with drug trafficking after being arrested on other warrants.
One of the search warrants was served at the Wireless A store on Main Street, but owner Sami Sosa says police came up empty.
Several agencies were involved in the operation. Officials said the Hamilton Police Department, the Ohio Investigative Unit, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, the Butler County Sheriff's Office, the Butler County Prosecutor's Office and the City of Fairfield and West Chester Police Departments took part.
Detectives said the investigation is still open and more charges are expected.
According to a release, the sale of synthetic drugs is increasing in the area and police have had contact with subjects from other counties and states who have come to Hamilton just to buy the drugs.
Hamilton police said they have received multiple complaints of juveniles and adults buying synthetic marijuana from businesses in the city.
Officials said synthetic marijuana can be more potent than regular cannabis. The packets often use cartoon characters and other images to entice a younger crowd.
"It will be ground up and it looks something like marijuana, but then there are chemicals that are sprayed on it and so you don't know what you're getting, what the chemicals are going to do to you. 'I want the one with Mickey Mouse on it. I want the one with Snoopy on it.' You don't know what you're getting. You're going in there and you can really have a bad trip on something," said Det. Rich Burkhardt.
A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, states that synthetic marijuana, herbal incense and potpourri -- commonly known by brands such as Spice and K2 -- were linked to 11,406 of the 4.9 million drug-related emergency department visits in 2010.
Police say ask your child questions if you see packages with names like Scooby Snax, Mad Hatter and Mind Trip. Synthetic marijuana can be incense or some other plant sprayed with chemicals that can be dangerous, according to officials.
"If you see something that says incense or something that's odd, packaged funny, take a look at it. Call an officer out because most of the officers have now know what this kind of stuff is. You see something that -- it makes it look harmless. It might not be harmless. Just because you can go get it at a store doesn't means it's something you can use," said Det. Burkhardt.
Officials said young people were some of the most common users of the drugs. The agency said that people between the ages of 12 and 29 accounted for three out of four emergency room visits involving synthetic marijuana. The average age of users of marijuana who sought emergency help was 30.
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