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DEA and FDA shut down 44 websites advertising illegal vaping cartridges

Online networks advertised THC vaping cartridges by brand names

1973 -- The Drug Enforcement Administration is established by Nixon to handle all aspects of the nation's drug problem.
1973 -- The Drug Enforcement Administration is established by Nixon to handle all aspects of the nation's drug problem.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the seizure of 44 website domains offering to sell illicit vaping cartridges containing THC and other adulterated substances on Friday.

This enforcement effort – part of Operation Vapor Lock – is a result of DEA’s continued coordination with inter-agency and law enforcement partners to address the evolving health hazard caused by illicit vaping products.

“In the wake of recent injuries and deaths caused by vaping products, these seizures send a message to anyone seeking to capitalize on this dangerous trend,” said Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon. “DEA will continue to work in lockstep with FDA and other federal, state, and local partners to use all our authorities to pursue anyone that violates our laws and puts Americans in harm’s way.”

“We need to fully understand the causes of vaping related lung injuries,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Moreover, it is a federal crime to advertise the sale of illicit THC vaping cartridges online, and by seizing these websites today, we are able to focus on other online and in-person sources of illegal and potentially dangerous vaping products. As more information comes to light in this complex and evolving investigation, we remain committed to taking further appropriate actions with our federal, state and local partners.”

Some of the online networks advertised THC vaping cartridges by brand names alongside pictures and statements about THC levels or other information clearly indicating the items for sale are considered a controlled substance under federal law.

The joint investigation uncovered that many of the websites sold products and charged the purchaser, but did not deliver a product. Other websites, not specifically identified as scams, have yet to deliver products ordered during the investigation. All websites involved now redirect to a page advising visitors that the domain has been seized by U.S. authorities for breaking federal law.

Vaping is an emerging public health threat to the nation. A newer and more troubling trend on the rise is the vaping of illicit substances, including THC. In recent months, there have been thousands of confirmed lung injuries and dozens of deaths attributed to vaping use. To date, the exact cause of these injuries is not fully understood and is the subject of ongoing investigation by the FDA, CDC and other state and local health agencies.

THC, or delta-9-terahydrocannabinol, is the main constituent in the cannabis plant that produces psychoactive effects. Psychological and physical effects of vaping high concentrations of THC may be more intense than plant marijuana use, including paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Many users prefer vaping because it is smokeless, odorless and easy to hide or conceal. The long-term effects of vaping high concentrations of THC are not yet fully known.

DEA’s Special Operations Division, Denver Field Division, Chicago Field Division, Salt Lake City District Office and Baltimore District Office, and FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations were involved in this investigation, along with support from state and local law enforcement partners. Assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Colorado.