One man jumped out of a second-story window and broke both his legs. Another man was found gnawing on his bedroom furniture. Others have become violent or so disoriented they have walked out into moving traffic.
K2, or synthetic marijuana made from sometimes toxic chemicals, is flooding the streets and towns of Lancaster County right now.
In the last 60 days, police and emergency workers said they are dealing with a local K2 plague that is taxing safety resources that have already been overtaxed by the heroin epidemic.
“On average per day we are getting dispatched on six to eight K2 or suspected K2 overdose calls,” said Bob May, executive director of Lancaster Emergency Medical Services. “That's like a 60-percent increase over a year ago.”
Lancaster EMS covers 18 municipalities in the county; May said they've been called to nearly all of them in the past two months for K2 overdoses.
What is K2?
Synthetic marijuana, commonly known as spice or “K2,” is dangerous because of its constantly changing ingredients. As soon as one brand is outlawed, another mix of chemicals in another brand takes its place, said police.
City police have gotten at least 100 calls for K2 reactions in the past two months, according to Lancaster Sgt. Bill Hickey. That compares to about two calls per month a year ago.
“That's probably a conservative estimate,” said Hickey. “We see it multiple times a day right now. Depending on the circumstances, someone might be arrested, but we generally take them to the hospital because we can't take someone into custody if they are unconscious. It's a big drain on all first responders.”
Dr. Michael Reihart, the emergency medical director for Lancaster General Health, said the ingredients and potency can change even with the same brand from week to week.
“Our patrolmen encounter it at least once a shift now,” said Columbia Borough Det. Matt Leddy. “There's been a sharp spike in the amount of people using it.”
Sometimes users are hallucinating and it's affecting people very differently, said Leddy.
In April, law enforcement officials noted the K2 crisis had hit other communities but had not reached Lancaster County.
Lancaster city police Sgt. Brad Shenk arrested two men for public drunkenness Wednesday after they were reportedly stumbling and acting disoriented on a sidewalk. Police found packages of K2 on the men that were labeled “Kick” and “Jamaican Gold Super Extreme.”
“It's everywhere right now,” said Shenk. “It's overtaking heroin on just the number of calls we are getting.”
Other places around the country are getting flooded with K2. Austin, Texas, police reported they've seen 1,600 cases in the last year.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes K2 or spice as “a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as ‘safe,’ legal alternatives to that drug. Sold under many names, the ingredients often contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that can cause psychoactive (mind-altering) effects.”
“People smoke it and think it's going to be like organic marijuana and it's not,” said May. “It causes severe paranoia, unconsciousness, very unusual behavior, sometimes violent behavior.”
May said emergency responders are getting increasingly worried about their own safety when responding to calls of patients who are high on K2.
He said the calls often come in of an unconscious person or a sick person.
“But we don't know what we have until we get there,” said May.