More than 90 People Hospitalized After Using K2 in Austin

By Paul Gaita 09/02/16

According to authorities, the majority of the overdoses cases were from Austin's homeless population. 

More than 90 People Hospitalized After Using K2 in Austin
Photo via KXAN/YouTube

Emergency medical services crews in Austin, Texas, were besieged by more than 100 incidents of overdose in the course of a single week due to the use of synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or Spice. First responders received the first call about an individual sickened after using the drug on Wednesday, August 24. By Thursday night, paramedics had treated 52 patients over the course of a 24-hour period.

Police were forced to close down lanes so medics could establish a command post to treat patients who were either unconscious or experiencing seizures or altered states of mind that can come with K2 use. 

This week, the number of K2 poisonings rose to over 100, according to local sources. “We’ve had spikes before and we’ve continued to see K2 cases, but not to the volume we’re experiencing right now,” said EMS Captain Darren Noak.

Austin-Travis County medics have responded to 526 calls involving K2 this year, excluding last week's incidents, according to EMS WorldThis number is significantly lower than figures from 2015, when 650 K2-related calls were received in just June and July of that year. 

Police also stated that the majority of the cases were from Austin’s homeless population. Witnesses reported seeing two separate groups of individuals near the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless smoking what appeared to be a K2 joint before collapsing on Thursday.

Police detained three individuals last week after reviewing surveillance footage in the area. Officers planned to charge at least two of them with drug possession or intent to distribute, but only arrested one woman, 53-year-old Cathy Blair, for possession of methamphetamine, an unrelated charge.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, authorities are having difficulty determining whether the K2 involved in the overdoses were among the dozens of versions of the drug that have been outlawed in Texas.

The weeklong incidents come on the heels of another mass overdose in Houston that hospitalized 16 people in June. 

The overdoses in Austin are the latest in a string of large-scale incidents involving K2 this summer. Los Angeles authorities suspect that the (latest) overdose of more than 60 people in Los Angeles’ Skid Row section of downtown in August was caused by K2, while another 33 were treated in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in July. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, synthetic marijuana killed three times more people in the first five months of 2015 than in the same period in 2014.

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