Synthetic Weed Epidemic Hits NYC
From June to August the increasingly popular and dangerous drug, synthetic weed (also known as K2 or Spice), has sent over 2,300 people to NYC emergency rooms as usage rates continue to surge. Many are calling this spike in synthetic marijuana usage an epidemic as it takes hold of those looking for a cheap high that is easy to find. The ER visits are 10 times the amount of visits reported during the same time frame last year – and this troubling trend is expected to be matched in cities across the state.
K2 is a powerful mix of herbs that is doused in synthetic cannabinoids and sold as synthetic marijuana. It has taken the state’s streets by storm as a frequent substitute for other street drugs by teenagers, employees, parolees and a large portion of the homeless population. Much of the drug’s popularity, especially for those required to submit to drug tests for employment or probationary purposes, is attributed to gaps in drug testing programs. Although a Spice (K2, Synthetic Marijuana, Synthetic Weed) Drug Test exists, most employers either don’t know about it, don’t think about it, or don’t bother including it in their traditional testing panels. Furthermore, thanks to the ever changing chemical components used by manufacturers to stay ahead of the law, it is somewhat harder to test for than other substances.
New York Lawmakers & NYPD Respond to K2 Epidemic
As a result, New York lawmakers are aggressively trying to combat the surge in usage and distribution of this “weaponized marijuana”. The NYPD is conducting raids, prohibiting businesses from selling it, and dishing out $500 fines whenever possible. The buck doesn’t stop there. Great effort is still being made to increase the fines permissible under law. Lawmakers want to hand out stiffer punishments to businesses caught distributing K2, including license revocation, shutting businesses down and even prison time for up to five and a half years for sellers caught with 16 ounces of the substance. “Our city streets are being taken over by zombies…we cannot look the other way,” Bronx Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj has said.
K2 Nation: 125th Street between Park and Lex
A prime example of the epidemic can be found at 125th Street in Harlem, which is frequently referred to as “K2 Nation” and is being touted as a ground zero of sorts. In fact, reports of users roaming the streets under the influence who are exhibiting bizarre and at times dangerous behaviors has become the norm, despite the efforts being made by the NYPD. The New York Times described the ill effects of the drug in a recent report saying, “It was early afternoon when the man with the twitching legs was dragged from the ground into an ambulance. Another man selling books washed away the vomit.” A day or two later a man was found in the same location, “unable to remember his name before he fell into a trance with his jaw open and his eyes dilated.”
How K2 is distributed in NYC
K2 is often sold in smoke shops, bodegas and gas stations in small plastic packages for as little as $1, making it a cheap and easily accessible option for people of all ages and income levels. The packages sold can contain K2 in the form of incense, herb mixes and potpourri, which can then be smoked on its own in a joint, pipe or even with a vapor cigarettes, with some users preferring to add it to marijuana or drink it after adding hot water. Many packages can be found with warning labels advising those who purchase it to abstain from ingesting it in any way. This warning is nothing but a “CYA”; everyone who sells it and everyone who buys it knows exactly what it’s supposed to be used for.
Because K2 is a drug of many names and chemicals, since suppliers frequently remove and add chemicals to their concoctions in a race against regulations. This presents law enforcement and state officials with a very difficult challenge when it comes to making arrests and doling out fines; in fact, much of the K2/Spice on the street is technically legal!
K2 may be sold under catchy names like, Mr. Nice Guy, California Dreams, Nirvana, Spice and You Only Live Once, but the dangerous effects of it can make you anything but a “nice guy” nor do they promote any sort of “nirvana” for users. Some of the adverse effects are lethargy, confusion, drowsiness, respiratory depression, agitation, irritability, headache, seizures and loss of consciousness. As if those side effects weren’t unpleasant enough, it can get much worse as some K2 users have been reported to experience acute renal failure, adverse effects to the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, paranoia, hallucinations and even death.
New York Combats K2 Sold Online
Dealers of K2 have been using websites and online classifieds forums, like Craigslist, to spread word of their product in NYC. However, state officials quickly became aware of the online presence, and are working diligently to remove ads and listings for K2 by sending letters to the website publishers. Craigslist has reportedly been cooperating by promptly removing any ads and listings for K2, but it’s an ongoing battle.
“”The internet has now become a virtual bodega and a chemist’s warehouse, where all of these products that are commonly purchased by young people can now be purchased online,” said State Senator Jeffrey Klein in a recent press conference conducted to address the state wide issue. “As we fight against the K2 epidemic in New York State, Craigslist’s immediate response to remove K2 classifieds helps us to ensure there’s one less source where people can score this dangerous drug. I have a message for eBay, Craigslist, Backpage and other sites,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter if K2 is sold in the corner store or in cyberspace, you need to stop the proliferation of K2 and start policing your websites.”
State lawmakers plan to continue the fight to rid the state of as much K2 as possible, but the process may be slow going and is subject to legislative approval. In the meantime, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has provided valuable online resources to educate the public about the perils of K2 use and distribution. They are advising anyone who has found this drug being sold in the state to call 311 so a report may be filed.
If you suspect an employee or family member has been using this dangerous drug, you can get them tested at one of our DNA & Drug Testing Locations in New York, or at any of our clinics nationwide.