WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 150 synthetic drug makers and sellers have been arrested in a U.S. crackdown on designer drugs whose profits largely flow to the Middle East, the Drug Enforcement Administration said on Wednesday.
Federal agents have issued nearly 200 search warrants and seized more than $20 million in cash and assets in an operation that has spanned over 29 states since its launch January, the DEA said in a statement.
The targeted drugs include synthetic marijuana, which is usually a plant material treated with a psychoactive compound, and a stimulant commonly known as bath salts.
Federal law enforcement agents found that much of the illicit drug profits go to countries in the Middle East, including Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, the DEA said.
The U.S. Treasury also announced on Wednesday it was imposing sanctions on a Canadian father and son that the department said were known to be kingpins in the synthetic drug trade. The move will block any assets that Daniel and Kevin Louie may have in the United States and prohibit U.S. companies from doing business with them.
The DEA has increased its scrutiny over the drugs since they gained popularity in recent years and began its first crackdown from December 2012 through June 2013 that resulted in more than 227 arrests, according to the DEA's statistics.
China manufactures the vast majority of new synthetic drugs created in the past five years, the DEA said.
The Associated Press first reported news of the recent raids, saying the largest was in Alabama.
Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Bill Trott and Richard Chang