Two men were arrested Sept. 12 in a home in Tramonto where detectives found $380,000 worth of cash, firearms, marijuana and THC vape cartridges, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department. Detectives also found eight jars of narcotic distillate, alone said to be worth $300,000.
The cartridges and drugs were part of a manufacturing system of the same type that has been implicated in an outbreak of mysterious vaping illnesses among youth and adults as old as 65, along with at least seven deaths across 36 states in recent weeks, MCSO said in a statement.
“Based on the equipment and the products located inside the residence, detectives believe this location was an apparent … manufacturing lab,” according to the statement.
Vaping involves using an electronic cigarette to vaporize nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals that come in detachable cartridges, or pods.
The 23-year-old suspects, Tucker Reece and Kolby Stevens, were taken into custody without incident.
Also this week, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) announced that the first three cases of vaping-related respiratory illness have been identified in Arizona. Health officials have been unable to explain the illnesses and deaths, but the common thread has been vaping products that contained both nicotine and cannabinoids, which are extracted from marijuana. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, or weight loss.
Scientists suspect homemade vape cartridges, like those found in Tramonto, may be at least partly to blame for the health crisis, but they have not ruled out commercially available e-cigarettes. Until the causes are pinned down, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people to “consider not using e-cigarette products.”
Vaping is common among high school students and even middle-schoolers in the Deer Valley Unified School District, as In&Out Magazine reported last year. Vaping has known health risks, especially for youth, though health experts say the full risks are only beginning to be studied.
“It’s important that parents are talking to their children about the dangers associated with vape so they do not use these products,” said ADHS Director Cara Christ.