Dangerous Drug Sent Nearly 2,000 New Yorkers to Hospitals Between April 1 and June 30
Governor Cuomo called for stronger Health Department regulations to combat the sale of synthetic cannabinoids in New York State. These dangerous, man-made compounds have resulted in a dramatic increase in hospital visits and poison control center calls. The sale and possession of dozens of synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts were banned by the Department of Health at the urging of Governor Cuomo in August, 2012. These new regulations will expand the existing list of banned substances to include new chemical compounds that drug producers have begun to make since 2012.
“This rash of medical emergencies is proof positive that these synthetic drugs are dangerous and a threat to public health,” Governor Cuomo said. “These new, stronger regulations will allow us to crack down on these harmful products and stop those who seek to skirt the law in order to sell these drugs and the misery that comes with them.”
Synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as legal and typically consist of plant material coated by chemicals which are supposed to mimic THC, the active chemical compound in marijuana. Since 2012, the producers of synthetic cannabinoids have been attempting to skirt New York’s strict regulations by developing new chemicals not specifically identified in regulation. The new emergency regulations add two additional classes of compounds to the banned substances list, which potentially include hundreds of different hazardous chemicals and will be in effect upon approval by the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council and filing with the Department of State.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Synthetic marijuana poses a threat to the health and safety of all New Yorkers and we will continue to do all we can to get these drugs off the street. Too many people have fallen victim to synthetic marijuana. Updates to our regulations expand the chemical compounds banned in order to strengthen our fight against this illegal and dangerous industry.”
New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez said, “Synthetic cannabinoids can have dangerous and long-lasting effects on the brain. Symptoms often present as psychosis and erratic, potentially harmful behaviors. Those who smoke these man-made chemical concoctions can be in danger of hurting themselves or others while under their influence. These expanded regulations will help us identify these drugs and put a stop to the serious danger they present to New Yorkers.”
Over the past several months, hospitals and poison control centers have seen a dramatic increase in activity because of these drugs. From April 1 to June 30, New York State saw more than 1,900 emergency department visits and more than 680 poison control center calls due to reports of adverse health effects associated with synthetic cannabinoid use. This represents more than a tenfold increase over the same time period in 2014. Nationally, there have been 15 synthetic cannabinoid-related deaths reported to poison control centers during January through May 2015. No deaths have yet occurred in New York State.
In addition to these updated regulations, DOH and OASAS have continued to issue health advisories to hospitals, emergency departments, ICUs, urgent care centers, community health clinics, medical directors, nursing directors, and primary care providers in order to keep them updated on this growing public health threat, as well as provide information and resources that can be used when dealing with patients.
The dangerous drugs are marketed as incense, herbal mixtures, or potpourri in order to mask their true purpose. Street names for substances include Spice, K2, Green Giant, Smacked, Wicked X, AK-47, Geeked Up, Ninja, Caution, Red Giant, andKeisha Kole.
Users of the synthetic mixtures can never be certain in which ways the drugs will harm them, but users have experienced symptoms that include renal failure, death, agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, arrested heart rate, loss of consciousness and violent behavior. These effects can be similar to those of phencyclidine, or PCP.
An owner of an establishment as well as any other person possessing, distributing, selling or offering for sale prohibited synthetic drugs in violation of the regulations is subject to criminal penalties including a fine up to $500 and/or up to 15 days in jail. Civil penalties include a fine up to $2,000 per violation. DOH continues to partner with the New York State Police and other law enforcement agencies to crack down on the use of these synthetic drugs as they evolve.
The proposed regulations are available in their entirety here.
If you are aware of locations where these products are being manufactured, sold, or distributed, please call the Synthetic Drug Hotline at 1-888-99-SALTS (1-888-997-2587). Additional information on synthetic cannabinoids is available here.
New Yorkers struggling with an addiction, or whose loved ones are struggling, can call or text the State’s toll-free, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week HOPEline, 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369). The HOPEline is staffed by trained clinicians who are ready to answer questions and offer treatment referrals. Additional resources are available through the NYS OASAS website here. A list of addiction treatment providers is available here.