SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A multi-agency operation targeting a ring of drug dealers in San Diego's South Bay and southeastern neighborhoods resulted in the arrests of 20 defendants on prescription fraud charges, authorities announced Tuesday.
"Operation Purple Haze," launched in 2013, identified suspects involved in forging and filling prescriptions stolen from a doctor's office to obtain promethazine with codeine cough syrup for distribution, authorities said.
So far, 18 out of 21 defendants have pleaded guilty to various related crimes, including prescription fraud and burglary. One defendant remains at large.
Promethazine with codeine cough syrup is a "Schedule V" controlled pharmaceutical drug that acts as a depressant and when misused can result in respiratory failure and death, authorities said.
Popularized by rap culture, the drug is often mixed with soft drinks like Mountain Dew or Sprite and is known by several names including "sizzurp" or "drank." The drug is commonly abused by teens and young adults.
"We hope that operations like this one will increase awareness that prescription drug abuse continues to rise at an alarming rate with devastating effects to our community," said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. "This operation also highlights the cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate the organized, illegal misuse of controlled pharmaceutical drugs."
"Operation Purple Haze" was a joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, California Department of Health Care Services, National City Police Department and the District Attorney's Office. Agents tracked down more than 50 stolen prescriptions which were filled at commercial pharmacies in the San Diego area.
Most of the prescriptions were filled by persons ranging in age from 18 to 24 years old. The "takedown" of the organization began on March 13, 2013, when 16 of the defendants surrendered themselves at the National City Police Department for arrest and booking.
"The diversion of controlled prescription drugs poses a significant danger for the community," said DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman. "These medications are extremely dangerous and addicting when not used as prescribed. People who sell these drugs are as dangerous to the community as heroin or cocaine dealers, and the DEA will continue to target these dangerous criminals."
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