Bad Batch of K2 Leads To 23 Overdoses in 24 Hours

By Kelly Burch 11/11/16
About a dozen more overdosed the following day.
Bad Batch of K2 Leads To 23 Overdoses in 24 Hours
Photo: YouTube

About 35 St. Louis residents overdosed on K2, a synthetic cannabinoid, this week—23 of which occurred in a 24-hour period on Tuesday. 

Most of the people who overdosed were homeless, and were found near the New Life Evangelistic Center, a shelter in downtown St. Louis, according to CBS St. Louis

“People were standing and walking around like zombies,” St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They didn’t know what they were doing or where they were at.”

A large group of people in the area appeared to overdose in a very short amount of time. On Wednesday morning, 11 more people overdosed. “The police chief was passing by the north side of the library when he saw seven people down, and by the time the fire department arrived, there were 11 down within a 20-minute period,” Jenkerson said. 

In addition to appearing disoriented, some people were having seizures, passing out or moaning and asking for help. On Wednesday, police were called twice in four hours to care for one man, who told a reporter that he had smoked K2. 

Three people were taken into custody who were suspected of selling the synthetic drugs that caused the spate of overdoses. “Somebody is preying on the most vulnerable people in society,” said Rev. Larry Rice, who runs the shelter. 

The New Life Evangelistic Center has had its own run-ins with the law. The shelter has been illegally operating since it lost its occupancy permit on May 12, 2015. Neighbors oppose the shelter, and there have been tensions between the homeless population and the surrounding residents. On Wednesday morning, following the overdoses, the city ordered the shelter to either obtain a new permit or close. 

One resident of the shelter said that residents use K2 because it allows them to be able to pass court-ordered drug screenings. “The drug is everywhere,” said James Tyler Pennick, a 29-year-old Air Force veteran and resident of New Life. “A lot of homeless people have drug problems. I am sure this stuff is very cheap.”

Pennick, who was recently kicked out of rehab, said that he tried the drug once. “I took one hit. It’s supposed to be like marijuana. It was almost like having a seizure. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know my own name.”

St. Louis Police Lt. James Joyner agreed with Pennick on one thing: “It’s a cheap way to get high,” he said. In fact, the bad batch that hit St. Louis this week was sold for as little as $1 per K2 cigarette. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.