WASHINGTON — Hundreds of people have been overdosing in the District over the past week due to “K2,” a dangerous street drug that is often misleadingly called “synthetic cannabis.”
There were a staggering 244 overdose cases from Monday, Sept. 10, through Sunday, Sept. 16, according to D.C.’s fire department. More than 80 cases were reported on Friday alone.
“We treated 81 patients and transported 65,” said DC Fire and EMS spokesman Doug Buchanan. “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is also investigating the possibility that five recent deaths may be connected to the use of K2.”
Although commonly called “synthetic cannabis,” drugs known by names like K2 and “Spice” are very different from actual cannabis. They’re often comprised of various synthetic substances sprayed on dried plant material to mimic marijuana, and there’s no way of knowing exactly what’s in them.
“The city’s Department of Forensic Sciences is trying to get a handle on what it is,” Buchanan said. “Mayor Muriel Bowser has put a huge team together.”
Over the weekend, Bowser warned on Twitter that a “potentially fatal batch of K2” had worked its way into D.C.:
🚨EMERGENCY ALERT: A potentially fatal batch of K2 is majorly impacting the District. Symptoms include vomiting, loss of consciousness, and altered mental state. If you see someone experiencing an overdose, please call 911. pic.twitter.com/yMmEDL4wmU
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) September 15, 2018
“Symptoms include vomiting, loss of consciousness, and altered mental state,” the mayor said.
Last July saw another spike in synthetic cannabis overdoses throughout the country, including D.C.
During that time, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that the drugs were causing severe illness, bleeding and death because they were being mixed with an anticoagulant used in rat poison.
“There are a number of synthetic cannabis products being illegally marketed and used for their psychoactive effects,” Gottlieb said. “Use of these illegal products pose significant public health concerns.”
The federal government has banned certain chemicals used in synthetic cannabis, while states and local governments — including D.C., Maryland and Virginia — have tried to do the same.
However, such laws are sometimes impossible to enforce.
“Certain entities continue to bypass state and federal drug laws by making and distributing these products — often marked or labeled as ‘not for human consumption’ — and changing the structure of the synthetic chemicals to try to skirt legal requirements,” Gottlieb said.
Since mid-July, there have been about 1,200 overdose cases tied to K2 in the District, according to D.C. Fire and EMS.
“We all have to be a village on this front,” said Buchanan. “We all have to look out and help one another. If you think you see someone in need of our help, please call 911.”