Synthetic Marijuana May Be Responsible For 18 Overdoses on Skid Row

By Victoria Kim 08/25/16

This is the second wave of synthetic marijuana overdoses to hit the Skid Row area this year.

Synthetic Marijuana May Be Responsible For 18 Overdoses on Skid Row

First responders were called to another mass overdose on Skid Row on Monday—and authorities suspect synthetic marijuana to be the cause, once again.

Eighteen people were evaluated by paramedics on Monday morning, and 14 of them were hospitalized. This is the second mass overdose in less than a week. Another, larger outbreak happened in the same area last Friday, when a total of 50 people were evaluated and 38 of them hospitalized.

Based on the signs and symptoms of the individuals, authorities suspect that they had taken synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice or K2. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a warning on Tuesday about the drug, which it said “is the likely cause of the recent overdose reports in the Downtown Los Angeles area.”

Spice has little to do with actual marijuana. It is made with chemicals and is known to have some pretty severe, unpredictable side effects which include hallucinations, paranoia, and aggressive behavior. Authorities in certain areas of the United States where Spice has become popular, have been trying to crack down on the drug, but to no avail. The mass overdoses appear to be getting worse.

But first responders in LA are working to implement an interesting solution. The idea is to have a first responder unit specifically for publicly intoxicated individuals, which will transport them to a Sobering Center where they can be monitored and provided a chance to enter a detox program or transitional housing. 

The LAFD SOBER (Sobriety Emergency Response) Unit, which is slated to start operating in the fall, will work in conjunction with a new Sobering Center located in the Skid Row area. The pilot program was created to address “serial inebriates” or “super users,” who EMS workers see multiple times a month—sometimes every day. Authorities hope the strategy will “help free up [emergency department] beds.”

According to the LAFD, the top 40 super users were responsible for about 2,000 calls to 911 in the city in 2015. "These callers, often experiencing the chronic effects of drug and alcohol abuse, have historically been taken to a hospital emergency room by paramedic ambulance, where following elaborate tests, further care offered by nurses and physicians is often refused," said the LAFD in a statement in June. "Many of these patients depart the hospital, only to return the same day in a ceaseless cycle that limits the availability of both paramedics and critically needed hospital beds."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr