More than 90 people have been hospitalized in the span of a week as the number of K2 incidents increases in downtown Austin.
K2, also known as spice, is a type of synthetic marijuana that has potentially detrimental side effects including vomiting, seizures, elevated blood pressure, profuse sweating and spastic movements, according to the Partnership for Drug Free Kids.
APD was able to identify three suspected K2 dealers Friday after responding to a medical emergency call on the 700 block of Neches Street near Salvation Army. Two people had taken K2 and had negative reactions, which led to the arrest of three possible dealers who were in the area.
APD Lieutenant Kurt Thomas said in a press conference Friday that upon further drug analysis of potential evidence found on suspects, each could be charged with a criminal offense ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“Not only do we investigate the possession there at the scene, but we question these individuals who possess these substances at length trying to determine where the substances they were in possession of originated from,” Thomas said.
APD is spreading its resources thin to accommodate the increased amount of people who are badly affected by this relatively new substance. Although users range from young adults to the elderly, Thomas added that most K2 dealers APD has encountered have been youth. Thomas believes its wide appeal is due to lax laws that made a way for the drug to be easily accessible and difficult for law enforcement to prosecute against if someone was caught using it. The consequences that come along with its popularity are too much to handle, Thomas said.
“It’s inundating patrol resources and EMS resources alike,” Thomas said. “You have several people in medical distress in one location, you’re having to call for buses from other parts of the city.”
APD has reason to believe the drug was transported from Houston to Austin, but where it was manufactured is still unknown, Thomas said.
Phyllis Moczygemba, executive director of the Austin Drug and Alcohol Abuse Program, said finding a preventative solution to sudden flares of experimental drug use is generally difficult, especially in regards to synthetic marijuana. Drugs like these are manufactured off the radar, and pinpointing their origin isn’t a primary component of anyone’s job description, according to Moczygemba.
“If we don’t know it’s there, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it,” Moczgymba said. “It would be having informants in the community trying to find the drug before it actually hits the streets.”
The widespread use of K2 isn’t an unheard of phenomenon. Neuroscience associate professor John Mihic said in a previous interview with The Daily Texan that synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 have dangerous side effects, including psychosis and massive tachycardia, or racing of the heart.
“You have no idea what you are getting, and you are making an assumption that what you are consuming is actually safe,” Mihic said. “Do you really want to be the guinea pig who tries this drug out without any idea what the toxicity is? It is naïve to think that these are just a straightforward replacement for THC.”
The wider problem of drug abuse and the susceptibility through which K2 was able to catch on so quickly is something APD says it recognizes.
“There are addiction issues in our community and we understand that just arresting everybody is not the end-all answer,” said Thomas.