Authorities In Erie Dealing With Spike In K2 Overdoses

Erie police and local hospitals are dealing with a rash of overdoses involving the synthetic marijuana known as K2, which police said is highly addictive and is sold in packages such as this packet, which was recently seized in a drug investigation. The packets typically sell for $20 to $30, according to police.

A form of synthetic marijuana is filling local emergency rooms. Authorities said seven teenagers ended up in hospitals after attending a party Thursday night in Erie that involved the drug, known as K2. At least some of the teens were later transferred to a Pittsburgh hospital for follow-up care.

Shortly before 1 p.m. Friday, Erie police and EmergyCare were sent to the 400 block of East 15th Street on a report of a K2 overdose. The call was separate from the call about the party, whose location police are still investigating. The incidents were among the latest in what Erie police and hospital officials are calling a recent spike in overdoses involving K2, a form of synthetic marijuana also known by such names as Spice and Potpourri.  Officials said they have no reports of fatal K2 overdoses in Erie, but that the overdoses trigger erratic and dangerous behavior. The emergency room at UPMC Hamot had handled more than 20 K2 overdose cases in the past week as of Friday morning, said Ferdinando Mirarchi, D.O., the hospital’s medical director of emergency medicine.

“It’s kind of like marijuana on steroids,” he said. Saint Vincent Hospital has also treated K2 overdose cases, including some of the teenage victims from the Thursday night party, said James Amsterdam, M.D., the hospital’s chief medical officer.  Erie police and the Erie County District Attorney’s Drug Task Force are investigating.

 K2 is a mixture of spices or plant material that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound that is chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. K2 is typically sold in small bags and marketed as incense that can be smoked, according to information on the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids website and is treated with chemicals that come from overseas, said Mike Nolan, of the Erie Bureau of Police Drug & Vice Unit.

The K2 that is winding up in Erie is made in clandestine labs in the West and is treated with chemicals that come from overseas, said Lt. Mike Nolan, of the Erie Bureau of Police Drug & Vice Unit.

“The thing is, you don’t know what (the chemical) is,” he said.  The packets of K2, under various names, are typically sold out of stores illegally, police said. They cost $20 to $30 for a 3-to-5-gram packet, city drug investigators said.

Investigators are learning from users that K2 is highly addictive, Nolan said. One person in a recent investigation told detectives that the only thing more addictive than K2 is heroin, he said. Unlike marijuana, which typically has a calming effect, K2 can produce hyper-excitability in those who smoke it, Hamot’s Mirarchi said. Users can get very agitated or very depressed, and then can develop seizures and respiratory problems, he said.

The more typical symptom of K2 overdose patients who come into the ER is excitability to the point of acting psychotic, Saint Vincent’s Amsterdam said. Users can be extremely violent, resulting in injury to themselves as well as to hospital staff, he said.  “It might take actual sedation and muscle paralysis to control the patient, in which case they need to be put on a ventilator,” Amsterdam said. “Some patients can present, after the excited state, more of an exhausted state. They could be hard to arouse, and could need airway protection.” Amsterdam said there is no antidote, and the length of time it takes for the drug to wear off typically results in a two- to three-day hospital stay. “The frustrating thing is, these places don’t stop selling it,” Nolan said.

An amendment to Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device and Cosmetic Act in 2013 included synthetic cannabinoids, which makes them illegal, and provided a list of specific chemicals, said former Erie County Assistant District Attorney Roger Bauer, who was recently hired as a deputy attorney general in Erie for the state Attorney General’s Office Drug Strike Force Section. Bauer prosecuted K2 cases for the District Attorney’s Office.

“Everyone knows what marijuana does to the body. These chemicals are clandestine manufactured. No one really knows what goes into them until after the fact. That’s why you have cases of people dying or getting high and acting in a different manner,” Bauer said.  Erie Police Deputy Chief Donald Dacus said his department is still actively investigating and serving search warrants on local businesses suspected of selling K2. Anyone who knows of anyone actively selling it is asked to call the bureau’s Drug & Vice Unit at 870-1199.

Source: Erie Times-News, Erie, Pa., Oct. 17, 2015.  

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