At least 39 people were hospitalized over the weekend in cases involving synthetic marijuana, also known as K2, according to Austin EMS Captain Darren Noak.
The spree started Friday around 3:30 p.m. when EMS responded to 12 K2-related calls in less than two hours. As of 7 p.m. on Saturday, 36 people had been hospitalized for similar reasons, with three more cases reported by Sunday morning.
“It’s numbers like that that perk our ears up and make us take more of an interest in the trend so we can make a plan of attack,” Noak said. “We’re still monitoring and looking at the situation.”
In August, a series of hospitalizations from synthetic marijuana resulted in the arrests of 56-year-old Charles Herd and his 41-year-old wife, Juanita Price. Kurt Thomas, a lieutenant with the Austin Police Department, told Fox 7 News in October the two were supplying K2 to much of the downtown area where the August incidents occurred.
APD did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the recent K2 cases.
Noak did not confirm if these new incidents are related, saying it’s too early to tell.
“It would be hard to say right now,” Noak said. “We’ve seen upticks come, we’ve seen upticks go.”
Noak said most of the incidents this time came from the East Seventh Street and Sixth Street areas downtown, and EMS utilized seven ambulances to transport the patients. UT Police Department spokesperson Cindy Posey said there were no incidents involving K2 on campus over the weekend.
Most patients were taken to Brackenridge Hospital or St. David’s Medical Center for treatment, according to Noak, but because of the high number of cases, EMS spread out the patient load so as not to overwhelm the hospitals.
EMS receives between 40 and 60 K2 calls per month, but they’ve seen numbers as high as 400 in one month.
“This is an uptick, but it’s a small blip compared to what we’ve seen in the past,” Noak said.
EMS did not perform any life-saving interventions, Noak said. All patients were alive on scene, and they all arrived at the hospitals alive, but Noak could not comment on their condition after they reached the hospital.
Brackenridge Hospital and St. David’s Medical Center were not available for comment.
UT social work professor Jane Maxwell researches patterns of substance abuse in Texas and said over the last five years, a collection of drugs have come to the country as research or industrial chemicals, particularly from India or China.
Maxwell said because the drug is cheap and readily available, it poses a threat to the homeless population.
“It seems to be targeted particularly to the homeless population and people who don’t have the amount of money to go buy other drugs,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said when a string of hospitalizations occurs, it’s because “somebody mixed up a bad batch.”
“So far we haven’t had that many deaths, but we’re paying a terrible price with the emergency services and hospitals,” Maxwell said.
Biochemistry freshman Salar Khan said the danger of synthetic marijuana is the lack of knowledge about the drug.
“With any synthetic drug, it’s dangerous because you don’t know what’s inside it, and it’s not regulated by the government,” Khan said.