Cause of New Haven Overdoses is K2

The drug that caused as many as 71 overdoses in New Haven, CT, since Tuesday night was K2, or synthetic marijuana, according to an Emergency Department physician at Yale New Haven Hospital and the city’s emergency management director. But there was conflicting information about whether or not it was laced with fentanyl, or whether perhaps some samples on the street were and others weren’t.

Dr. Kathryn Hawk, an Emergency Department physician with Yale New Haven Hospital, said that the drug that caused the overdoses was K2 laced with fentanyl. The Drug Enforcement Administration “was actually in the Emergency Department … and confirmed the presence of fentanyl,” said Hawk. But city Office of Emergency Management Director Rick Fontana said the DEA office in New York confirmed that what was in a joint taken from one victim was K2 that was not laced with any opioid.

Hawk said the K2, also known as spice, is “likely linked to one batch or one part of the supply but it’s also part of a larger systemic issue. … You never know what you’re going to get. When people come into the Emergency Department the most important thing is having an open-door policy, so when they come in you meet them where they are. The goal is to get the patient into treatment within three days.”

Dr. Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, said that by calling K2 “synthetic marijuana,” “in some ways you’re doing a disservice to marijuana, because it’s not nearly as potent. The generic term is synthetic marijuana compounds, but I find that to be misleading,” he said. The synthetic compounds “have potential for a wide variety of side effects.”

Vermund said the opioid epidemic “has been fueling a lot of this. … People who are opioid addicted — they need to get high. Sometimes they’re not even wanting to get high. They just want to avoid going into withdrawal. “We’ve seen the overdoses in the heroin-using community … by the thousands,” Vermund said, with opioid addiction rising from 400,000 in the late 1970s to 2.6 million now. “We’re in a new normal. This is a very serious time,” he said. “It’s a very serious crisis.”

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