‘Spice drug’ sends dozens to hospital

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NATCHEZ — Local health care officials say they’ve taken note of recent upticks in bad reactions to synthetic marijuana.

The drugs — colloquially known as “spice” — are under renewed scrutiny as dozens of people have been hospitalized in Mississippi in the last two weeks, 33 alone at University Medical Center.

But the drugs are hitting closer to home, as well.

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Shannon Russ, nurse manager of the emergency departments at Natchez Community Hospital and Natchez Regional Medical Center, said the hospitals in Natchez have seen an increase in adverse reactions to synthetic marijuana in recent months.

Some symptoms of spice use are rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, hallucinations and cold sweats. Use of the drug can also cause agitation and aggression or seizures.

Hospital staffs in Natchez have processes in place to examine and treat patients who exhibit erratic, or potentially dangerous behavior, Russ said.

“We have recently taken additional considerations for patients who are suspected to have ingested spice,” she said. “Spice and other synthetic drugs carry many risks. We want to emphasize that they are not a safe alternative to any illicit substances and should never be used.”

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said his office and Natchez-Adams County Metro Narcotics have seen a significant spike in spice availability in the area in recent months.

“I have seen more psychotic episodes on synthetic marijuana than I have seen on any other drug before,” he said.

“They say it could be linked to bad spice, but I think all spice is bad. You don’t know where it is coming from or who is making it.”

Spice is often sold in convenience stores in brightly colored packets under different names, such as K-2, herbal incense, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Scooby Snax, Skunk or Moon Rocks.

Jesse Fairchild, an agent with the East Mississippi Drug Task Force, said spice doesn’t have an odor so parents need to pay close attention to their children’s behavior. Fairchild said calling spice synthetic marijuana is misleading because it is nothing like marijuana and its use can be fatal.

“Spice is actually ground up plant material sprayed with chemicals,” Fairchild said. “Lots of those chemicals come from overseas. The high and the way it affects the body is nothing like marijuana.”

Lawmakers are having a difficult time controlling spice. As soon as chemicals used to make the drug are banned, manufacturers change the drug to skirt the law, Fairchild said.

Mayfield said the spice he’s seeing isn’t being manufactured locally, but is instead being imported into the area from Florida. The users have ranged in age from 12 and 13 to into their 50s, he said, but are largely concentrated among younger people.

“It is kind of like methamphetamine in that I have no idea what the appeal is,” Mayfield said. “My mind cannot go there where somebody would use something that they have been told is dangerous and toxic.”

Mississippi State Epidemeologist Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the cases related to the recent outbreaks are likely connected.

“And the fact that there are probably cases that have gone unreported, and a potential death it makes it even more frightening,” Dobbs said. “This is not worth risking your life.”

A press release from University Medical Center said one puff of spice can potentially put someone in a coma.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.