A Santa Rosa County business owner has been arrested for selling the illegal substance known as “spice,” despite recent warnings.
Osama "Tony" Yousef, wasn’t at the convenience shop at the time detectives arrived Wednesday morning. He was found in Escambia County around 11:30 a.m. and taken into custody on a Santa Rosa warrant for sale of a controlled substance and possession with the intent to distribute.
Sheriff's narcotics detectives arrived at the E Z Save, 3901 Diamond St., Pace, with a search warrant for the illegal substance based on undercover purchases. The herbal mixture tested positive for illegal chemical additives earlier in the month at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Lab.
Colorful, sparkly packages containing the substance — two boxes and seven bags full — were taken out and placed on the counter at the shop. The packages are labeled not for human consumption but sold with smoking devices similar to those used with marijuana.
Illegal drugs with an estimated street value of $4,000 to $5,000 were uncovered at the E Z Save, according to Sheriff's officials.
Yousef owns three stores – one in Santa Rosa County and two in Escambia County, according to deputies.
When narcotic detectives arrived on Wednesday, a purchase was in process for spice. The clerk working at the time said Yousef had instructed the items were legal to sell.
Blake Weekley, narcotics detective with the Sheriff’s Office, said fliers were handed out to business owners warning them that the substances are illegal.
“Two to three days later we came in (undercover) and bought some,” he said.
Deputy Rich Aloy, public information officer with the Sheriff’s office, said the department has been working to cut down the sale of spice.
“It’s toned down since the start,” he said. “We’ve gone around with fliers, but businesses continue to sell it.”
Sheriff Wendell Hall said in a previous statement that undercover purchases will continue until the activity stops.
In December, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued an emergency order deeming more chemicals to be a significant threat to health and public safety within the State of Florida, regarding spice.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, spice users report experiences similar to those produced by marijuana — elevated mood, relaxation, and altered perception — and in some cases the effects are even stronger than those of marijuana. Some users report psychotic effects like extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.
Officials say typical spice users are between the ages of 15 and 25. Parents may not recognize what they are seeing in their homes because the packaging is bright and cheery. But police say inside the package is a synthetic chemical that has become the "new crack". One concern law enforcement has is that spice has only been around for four or five years and long-term affects are unknown.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, "Spice abusers who have been taken to Poison Control Centers report symptoms that include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Spice can also raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart (myocardial ischemia), and in a few cases it has been associated with heart attacks. Regular users may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms."
"We still do not know all the ways Spice may affect human health or how toxic it may be, but one public health concern is that there may be harmful heavy metal residues in Spice mixtures."