NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 31: A passed out man lies on a sidewalk in an area which has witnessed an explosion in the use of K2 or ‘Spice’, a synthetic marijuana drug in East Harlem on August 31, 2015 in New York City. New York, along with other cities, is experiencing a deadly epidemic of synthetic marijuana usage including varieties known as K2 or ‘Spice’ which can cause extreme reactions in some users. According to New York’s health department, more than 120 people visited an emergency room in the city in just one week in April. While the state banned the ingredients used to make K2 in 2012, distributors have switched to other ingredients and names in an attempt to circumvent the law. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The incident follows a series of recent synthetic cannabis hospitalizations in Chicago.
More than 50 people were hospitalized in Brooklyn starting late last week as police tracked down a dangerous batch of synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or spice. The spike in hospitalizations, which began on Friday (May 18) and continued through the weekend, has not resulted in any deaths, according to NYPD. The police arrested at least 12 individuals suspected of distributing the substance.
On Tuesday, NYPD Department Chief Terence Monahan held a press conference to address the issue.
“We want to get the word out that there is a dangerous batch of K2 out on the streets in Brooklyn,” he told reporters. “Even though this is concentrated, currently, in Brooklyn we want to make sure this doesn’t extend to other parts of the city.”
On Monday evening, the BYPD issued an alert which outlined the affected areas where victims were found and suspects were apprehended in North Brooklyn.
That list of areas includes Broadway & Myrtle Avenue, 2570 Fulton Street, 599 Ralph Avenue, 2399 Van Sinderen Avenue and 2402 Atlantic Avenue.
Three of the locations are homeless shelters, Monahan pointed out, saying in Tuesday’s conference that Broadway and Myrtle seem to be the epicenter.
Synthetic cannabis is a substance which is often sprayed onto dry leaves and mimics the effects of organic cannabis, oftentimes to a greater degree than the real thing. Despite activating similar receptors in the brain, synthetic marijuana contains none of the same ingredients as its organic counterpart and has limited quality control to prevent dangerous chemicals from being added.
Police initially suspected synthetics cannabis as the cause when patients were brought into the hospital exhibiting symptoms of severe bleeding from their gums, nose, and mouth.
The NYPD dealt with a similar case in 2016 which saw 33 Brooklyn residents hospitalized within a period of 11 hours.
A spike in lethal K2 hospitalizations was also seen in the Chicago area in April when more than 100 patients were admitted after consuming synthetic marijuana which contained rat poison on it.