- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2015

Synthetic drug overdoses sent more people to D.C. emergency rooms in September than heart attacks, car accidents or strokes, a new report shows.

Although recreational marijuana has been largely decriminalized for adults in the District, dangerous designer synthetic cannabinoids that are sold over the counter at gas stations and bodegas not only remain rampant but are causing more calls to first responders than other major medical emergencies combined.

In September, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) workers responded to 611 phone calls concerning synthetic drug overdoses, a local NBC News affiliate reported Wednesday.

During that same span, first responders received 591 calls regarding car crashes, 61 for strokes, 58 for heart attacks and 32 for stabbings.

Medical emergencies spawned by marijuana substitutes known as “Spice” and “K2” have averaged 20 per day in September, and twice in September, first responders acted on 34 synthetic marijuana overdoses in a 24-hour span, the TV station reported.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has been tracking the cause of phone calls placed to the nation’s hospitals in recent years and determined that the District ranks second in the country with regard to synthetic cannabinoid exposure, trailing only Mississippi. Maryland and Virginia both ranked in the top 10.

“As a 25-year veteran of this department, it’s as scary as anything we’ve seen,” said FEMS Deputy Chief Rafael Sa’adah.

“This is a very, very, very significant operational impact,” Chief Sa’adah added. “Because it’s using a lot of resources, it then impacts the availability of resources for other life threatening time sensitive emergencies as well.”

In July, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law new penalties for stores caught selling synthetic marijuana, including the shuttering of businesses for up to 96 hours and the issuance of a $10,000 fine.

“We don’t want to go back to the crack cocaine days of what happens when people are addicted to dangerous drugs,” Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said after the bill was signed into law earlier this year.

Similar legislation was introduced in Baltimore just last month.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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