K2 Use Overwhelms New York’s Bed-Stuy Neighborhood

By Paul Gaita 07/05/16

Residents point to bodegas and smoke shops in the Myrtle Broadway area as the source of the K2 that is wreaking havoc on Bed-Stuy and Bushwick neighborhoods.

K2 Use Overwhelms New York’s Bed-Stuy Neighborhood
Photo DEA.gov

Residents in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant are up in arms about an influx of individuals causing havoc in the area as a result of using synthetic marijuana, or K2. Reports of K2 users acting like “zombies” from the effects of the drug—a combination of plant and herb material treated with a variety of chemicals (synthetic cannabinoids) that cause side effects ranging from extreme anxiety to seizures and hallucinations—have plagued the Bed-Stuy and Bushwick neighborhoods. In July 2015, area emergency rooms reported more than 1,000 visits from K2-related problems, according to DNAinfo.

As of March 2016, that number has gone down to 200. But despite efforts from the city's health department and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who banned synthetic marijuana last October, locals claim that the problem has spread from the area’s commercial strip at the corner of Myrtle Ave and Broadway to residential streets, where the sight of users laid out on sidewalks, stumbling into traffic and even behaving aggressively has become a common occurrence.

“I’ve seen people smoking it, walking through the streets seemingly oblivious to traffic, yelling at passersby, people passed out everywhere,” Trevor Tyrrell, who lives in the area, told DNAinfo. Police from the 81st Precinct have acknowledged that the incidents have increased since the previous year.

“We are aware of it. It is problematic for us,” said Deputy Inspector Scott Henderson, which covers the Myrtle-Broadway intersection. “We do a lot of work there, but as much as we take somebody off the corner, there’s someone else coming right along looking to purchase.” At a community council meeting, Henderson said men questioned during a recent traffic stop admitted they had driven from Georgia because they had been told that the Myrtle-Broadway corner was the best place to buy K2.

Residents point to several bodegas and smoke shops in the Myrtle-Broadway area as the source of K2 in the neighborhood. Any location found selling synthetic marijuana faces the loss of their tobacco license or closure, and while police have conducted numerous searches and handed out countless summonses, community members have said that stores continue to sell the drugs.

A television news team from WPIX was actually prevented from entering a store by "several admitted K2 users," one of whom threatened to break the team’s camera. Such incidents have transformed daily life in Bed-Stuy from a tightly-knit neighborhood to an area in the grip of an “epidemic.”

“I’ve lived here for more than 20 years, and it’s terrible now,” an anonymous local told DNAinfo. “It’s an epidemic, every borough, every ‘hood. Just look at the people on the corner, they look like zombies.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.