ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —
It's addictive, and potentially deadly, but even Florida’s laws can't keep up with the constantly changing ingredients.
9 Investigates learned that despite a recent state crackdown on synthetic drugs, they’re as easy to get a hold of as a candy bar at some locations.
Channel 9's Lori Brown has been fielding complaints from frustrated people who say law enforcement isn't doing enough to stop the sale of synthetic drugs.
Brown first asked the Orange County Sheriff's Office about this issue a year ago. At that time, the department said it wasn't a problem in the Orlando area. But after 9 Investigates kept getting complaints, we decided to see for ourselves.
We went undercover to discover just how easy it is to purchase the dangerous drug commonly known as K2.
Emergency room visits tied to the synthetic marijuana have more than doubled this year.
And, remarkably, 9 Investigates was able to easily purchase substances that tested positive for banned substances.
After our initial purchase, Brown confronted the owner of one shop selling packets of the banned materials over the counter near the University of Central Florida.
“We just wanted to know why you’re selling this stuff,” Brown asked Matthew Tersak, the owner of a shop called Mystik.
“It's incense," Tersak responded.
He said the product he was openly displaying at the time was not for smoking.
“If you misuse this product you could (expletive) die,” Tersak said.
Some people, in fact, are smoking the so-called "incense.”
“It's worse than heroin or crack," said Tara Turner, a former K2 user.
After a long struggle, Turner finally kicked her addiction.
“One hit and you can get robbed or raped and you wouldn't even know it,” she said.
Another man, also a former addict, discovered children are getting their hands on it.
“I was at my son's football practice at a local middle school. I looked down and saw the packaging of K2,” he said.
“Kids have gone into violent seizures on lunchroom floors after taking this," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told Brown.
9 Investigates took the three packages we bought to a lab. Within days, we found out two of the three packages contained illegal substances, synthetic cannabinoids.
“The next product is already on the shelf waiting to go out as the old one is outlawed,” said Trey Parrish, general manager of ArcPoint Labs in Orlando.
He explained that changing a single molecule is all it takes to make an illegal substance legal.
“Why in Florida is it still so easy to get your hands on this stuff?” Brown asked Bondi.
“Well it's not as easy,” Bondi said. “Again, it's being sold under the counters.”
“Three, four years ago you could walk in a store and buy this stuff from a clerk, which is unreal," Bondi added.
But that is exactly what 9 Investigates did just days before our conversation with Bondi.
When Brown asked the Orange County Sheriff's Office about our purchase, spokesman Jeff Williamson said, “I have not heard that it was a hard problem.”
“We're talking about whole blocks that are down and out and consumed with K2," said Tim McKinney with United Global Outreach.
McKinney is an advocate for Bithlo, which he says has been overrun with synthetic drugs.
Brown provided the lab test results to Tersak, the shop owner.
“We found out the incense you sold us is really an illegal drug,” she said. “Here are the results.”
Tersak yawned, glanced over the test results and asked, “Which tested positive?”
“Rose and Purple Diesel,” Brown told him.
At our prompting, Tersak pulled the packages off the shelf.
“I'm going to stop selling anything that's illegal, yeah,” Tersak said.
Turner, the former addict, says K2 is a bigger problem than many may think.
“People are losing their houses, their children,” she said. “They're robbing stores. It needs to be treated like it's heroin, like it's crack,” she said.
And not like it's incense.
It was two months ago when 9 Investigates first told the Sheriff's Office we were investigating the store where we purchased the banned substance.
We came back yesterday and were still able to buy one product that tested positive for illegal substances. It’s called Rose. The Sheriff's Office declined to comment.
Shortly before Brown's story aired on Tuesday, Channel 9 learned deputies began investigating two local stores suspected of selling synthetic drugs.
Brown learned investigators were at the Mystic Store at the intersection of Dean Road and University Boulevard, the store 9 Investigates had been looking into for weeks.
The second store was a Marathon gas station near Goldenrod Road and University Boulevard.
Authorities with the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco served warrants at both locations.
One person was arrested and another is expected to turn himself in, officials said. Two others have been identified as persons of interest and are currently being questioned.
Between the two locations, hundreds of small bags of the suspected controlled substances have been confiscated and will be tested, officials said.
The investigation began in August.