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KENOSHA COUNTY, WI — As health officials grapple with vaping-related medical issues and deaths across the U.S., authorities in southeastern Wisconsin say they’ve made the largest vaping drug bust in the country.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said investigators seized more than 30,000 vape cartridges filled with THC, about 98,000 empty vape cartridges, and a host of other manufacturing products such as money-counting machines, drug paraphernalia and packaging.

The big bust, though, was seizing 57 mason canning jars — about 7 gallons — filled with THC oil. Each jar was worth about $6,000, authorities said.

In a press conference held Wednesday, Waukesha police and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s office say they’ve arrested siblings Tyler, 20, and Jacob Huffhines, 23, for operating a “high-tech drug operation” out of a Kenosha County apartment.

Jacob and Tyler Huffines (Kenosha County Jail booking photos)

It all started because a Waukesha County mother talked to police about her son’s THC vaping, authorities said.

Waukesha Police Captain Dan Baumann said concerned parents came into their department in July with their high-school-aged son to talk about his role in distributing THC vape cartridges.

Baumann said this opening allowed investigators to infiltrate a drug-distribution network that found its way into all of the Waukesha County high schools and south into Kenosha County. Baumann said investigators worked five tiers up into the operation before being led to Tyler and Jacob Huffhines.

“If it wasn’t for these parents holding their son accountable, we wouldn’t be here today,” Baumann said.

It’s not known yet how far the THC vape distribution network went, authorities said.

Beth said the Huffhines based their operation in Bristol. They would hire people for $20 an hour to fill syringes with THC oil, and inject them into vaping cartridges. The cartridges were then packaged in colorful boxes that would appeal to teens, Beth said.

The dosing levels, Beth said, were deadly. On the back of each package, it says it has THC in a very small amount, only five milligrams,” he said. “They had about 1,000 milligrams. So it’s about 157 times the potency of what the labeling says.”

Beth said his department is ready and able to work with any law enforcement agency across the U.S. to help solve the THC vaping crisis. He said the two siblings that were arrested will no longer be operating an “empire of illegal drugs.”

Stop Vaping Immediately, Officials Say

Citing health concerns, public health officials in Milwaukee urged the public to stop using vape devices, including e-cigarettes in late August, saying that 16 people were hospitalized with chemical pneumonia.

It is not yet known whether these cases were related to the ultra-potent THC vape cartridges manufactured in Bristol.

Health officials said each of the 16 patients reported using vape devices — including marijuana oils, extracts or concentrates — in the weeks and months prior to hospitalization.

The 16 cases were reported in Dodge, Door, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Portage, Racine, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha and Winnebago counties

“We continue to learn more about the health effects associated with e-cigarettes. As the public health authority for the city, the Milwaukee Health Department is committed to protecting the public from the dangers of second-hand exposure,” Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Jeanette Kowalik said.

Teen Vaping “Skyrocketing” In Wisconsin

In January, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued an advisory warning that vaping among teens has “skyrocketed” in the state.

E-cigarette use among Wisconsin high school students increased 154 percent between 2014 and 2018, according to the advisory, and one of every five high school students — or 20 percent — uses e-cigarettes. Eighty-nine percent of high-schoolers said they wouldn’t try tobacco products that weren’t flavored.

“The e-cigarette aerosol that users inhale and exhale can expose both the user and those around the user to other harmful substances including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs,” health officials warned in the advisory.

As of Sept. 6, more than 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarette products have been reported to CDC from the following 33 states. Six people have died.

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