Spice Mixed With Bug Spray Blamed For Rash Of Overdoses

By Keri Blakinger 03/26/18

The drug mixture reportedly creates a short-term "zombie-like" effect on users.

person spraying insect repellant

Street drugs in Indiana may now be laced with a buzz-killing chemical: bug spray. 

“KD,” the nickname for a variety of drug popping up in Indianapolis, typically contains pot, "spice" or tobacco that’s laced with bug spray and leads to what the Indy Star described as a “zombie-like high.”

The buzz is short—around 45 minutes in a catatonic state, the paper reported. 

And it’s cheap: around $20 a bag. 

But it is—predictably—dangerous. 

“You look at what it does to a bug,” firefighter Scott Lebherz said, “and then you got to think what it’s doing to your brain, and your body and everything else.”   

Insecticides basically work by making nerves fire off signals repeatedly, by opening up sodium channels. That non-stop firing can potentially cause paralysis and death. 

"It’s why we use it on bugs,” said Dr. Daniel Rusyniak of the Indiana Poison Center, "because it overstimulates the bug, they have the equivalent of seizures and die."

Admittedly, though, insecticides—a class of drugs known as pyrethroids—are designed for bugs. And though humans are much bigger than the products’ intended targets, bug sprays could still have deadly impacts.

“At high doses, they will affect the human nervous system,” Rusyniak told Live Science

But, as is typically the case with adulterated street drugs, the substance poses a problem for medical personnel, who don’t always know what they’re dealing with.

In January, first responders in Indianapolis handled more than a dozen overdoses linked to “Katie,” a mixture of spice and another chemical. Most of the men treated survived, but one was later put on a ventilator in the hospital.

A later investigation into drug dealers linked to the laced spice netted six arrests and the seizure of 10 pounds of synthetic marijuana.

"You’re looking at people who will mix (a chemical) with a drug as a way to try to make more profit," said Rusyniak said. "Cutting your drug with ingredients has been a longtime thing that drug dealers have done to increase profits."

The phenomenon of mixing street drugs with chemicals intended to kill bugs isn’t new. Last year, a Tennessee man copped to smoking meth and wasp spray, and Mississippi authorities reported users shooting up wasp spray.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.