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Spice Hits Los Angeles’ Skid Row With a Vengeance
California Gov. Jerry Brown took quick action after the synthetic drug “Spice” was blamed for dozens of overdoses in August. The governor signed Senate Bill 139 into law on Sept. 24. Introduced by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) and sponsored by the California Police Chiefs Assn., the bill adds a number of specified drugs and chemicals to the existing list of prohibited synthetic cannabinoids.
When this outbreak started, city officials scrambled to take care of the dozens of people who fell sick. A Los Angeles County Department of Public Health alert cautioned medical professionals this way: “This drug is extremely harmful, and not much is known about what goes into making Spice. While no deaths have been reported from this recent outbreak of ‘Spice’ toxicity, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is concerned about further health impacts of this drug in communities across the county.”
The drug causes people to suffer loss of consciousness, psychosis, sweating, rapid heart rate and hyperthermia. County health officials asked physicians in the area to talk to patients at risk for substance abuse about the dangers of Spice and to report any use. The homeless on skid row are particularly vulnerable because of the low price of the drug — just $1 for a joint full of Spice — but kids, too, can be lured by the low price.
Outcome of the Outbreak
Because so many people were affected by the toxic Spice on skid row, the city’s first responders — paramedics, firefighters and police — were all sent to one part of the city, possibly putting at risk people in other areas who might need help. However, health officials see the incident as a valuable test that will serve as a learning experience for inevitable outbreaks in the future.
“[The] illnesses proved that protocols and plans have to be examined again and again,” Dr. Mitch Katz of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health told the Los Angeles Daily News. “There will be more episodes like Spice,” Katz said, referring to new drugs that continue to emerge. “We do have plans, but what the Spice incident shows is that you can’t rehearse enough and you can’t relook at the plans enough, so we’ll take that as our reason to take another look at the plans.”
Spice and Other Synthetic Drugs
According to the department of health, “Spice refers to illegal, synthetic, mind-altering chemicals that are typically sprayed on dried plants, such as oregano or basil, so they can be smoked or they are sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled. Spice may also contain opioids.” By all accounts, the batch that was on skid row in August was extremely toxic.
Because the chemicals used in Spice have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit, the Drug Enforcement Administration has made many of the active chemicals most frequently found in Spice illegal. However, the people who make these products are able to skirt the law by using different chemical mixes in their concoctions. And therein lies the danger: it is a constantly changing recipe.
And Spice isn’t the only dangerous synthetic drug of abuse. There is another set of chemicals called “bath salts.” These drugs are packaged in small foil envelopes that say “for a refreshing bath, not for human consumption.” These packets may contain mephedrone, MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone) or any of 80 other chemicals. Bath salts are supposed to mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine. Use of these drugs may also result in paranoia, violent behavior, increased blood pressure and possible heart attack or stroke. And new synthetic drugs made in this country and overseas are hitting the streets all the time.