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It was like a scene out of a zombie movie, one witness told a local news reporter recently in New York City. Another just called it “a horror movie.”

In one afternoon, a single neighborhood in Brooklyn was suddenly overrun with nearly three dozen young people stumbling and staggering up and down the sidewalks, blank-eyed and waving their arms, twitching violently and moaning, too far gone to even cry for help as they tumbled helplessly to the pavement. Most simply collapsed unconscious, but a few suffered dangerous seizures.

Local citizens quickly alerted police to the frightening scene. In minutes a fleet of emergency vehicles and ambulances arrived, sirens wailing and lights flashing. And in moments, it became clear to the EMT crews they were dealing with a serious drug situation, either bad drugs or drug overdoses or both.

The cops immediately began questioning victims and witnesses and investigating the local scene more closely. They soon zeroed in on some local convenience stores and bodegas that were known to sell K2, the synthetic marijuana product that has become a scourge from coast to coast – most often in low-income neighborhoods. They didn’t find K2 at any of the usual stores that day.

Synthetic cannabinoids with no quality control

k2 - Addiction in Florida

This was only 33 young victims from one neighborhood. Within three days, over a hundred more wound up in greater New York City hospitals, suffering from a variety of terrible side effects from smoking or ingesting this particularly bad batch of the synthetic drug K2.

But this most recent uptick in K2 (synthetic cannabinoids) emergencies can’t compare to last July, 2015, when 1,200 cases of K2 overdose overflowed the city’s emergency rooms, and 10 people died.

Also known as Spice, Mojo, Cloud 9, Smacked! and a dozen other nicknames, “K2” covers a wide and quickly growing variety of man-made, mind-altering synthetic cannabinoids – the active ingredients in marijuana. The chemicals are sprayed onto shredded or ground-up plant leaves so it somewhat resembles marijuana. When dried, it’s rolled into a joint and smoked the same as pot. K2 is also sold as a liquid that users can vaporize and inhale in e-cigarettes or similar gadgets.

From a legal standpoint, the problem is that K2 is made from legal substances. Therefore, no matter how dangerous or deadly it is, it remains legal. Manufacture can’t be controlled under the usual drug laws. In fact, by the time one version could be analyzed and possibly outlawed, the dozens of new versions would already be on the street.

From a public health viewpoint, it’s simply “goodness knows what’s in there.” There’s no quality control or any control at all over what’s used to make K2.

“K2 is wholly man-made, made by persons unknown, assembled by persons unknown, under unknown conditions in unknown places,” said Robert Messner, an NYPD deputy commissioner. “Users of K2 are literally playing Russian roulette with their bodies. They have no idea what chemicals are in that package or at what concentration.”

What happened in New York City is happening in towns and cities all across America.

Alarming and sudden surge in overdoses

According to the New York Times, K2 has been the source of an “alarming and sudden surge in overdoses – over three days this week, 130 people across New York City were treated in hospital emergency rooms after overdosing on K2, almost equaling the total for the entire month of June, according to the city’s health department.”

It was so bizarre, in fact, that Brian Arthur, a resident of the nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, live-streamed video coverage to his Facebook page. There was no doubt in Arthur’s mind what was going on. As he showed one victim after another staggering, slumping against a wall or falling conscious onto the pavement, Arthur repeatedly told his viewers to “stay away from K2.” When a local CBS News team asked him what was going on, Arthur said: “It looked like a scene out of a zombie movie.”

Another witness, Walter Quinones, told CBS that he saw people just start dropping on the street. “They were pouring out in the street. It was like something out of a movie, man, a horror movie,” Quinones said. “It reminded me of the crack epidemic when it first came out, you know, but this was like more worse. They were just dropping.”

Is K2 addictive? It’s certainly habit forming…

One victim, Ditrell Barnes, 30, told the New York Times the next day that he had blacked out on K2 and woke up in the hospital. “They said, ‘You passed out; you overdosed on K2,’” Ditrell said as he picked at the gauze over the spot on his arm where an IV had helped save his life. And while he talked, he asked passersby if they had any “sticks” or Spice.

“I would just rather have more of it, than less of it,” he said. “It’s like food for me. It’s like produce. It’s like something for my brain.” Without it, he said, he now feels “this empty void – it’s like I need that nutrition.”

Although it’s technically a legal substance, many jurisdictions are aggressively going after the drug with locally passed laws. In New York, for example, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the State Police would “step up enforcement against the drug and aggressively go after merchants who illegally sell it.” Police Commissioner William J. Bratton also pledged a renewed focus on K2, and noted that much of the drug’s activity in the city appeared to be happening near methadone clinics.

Every day here at Novus, we see the evidence of the harm that drugs can do to people, and how surprising that often can be to the victims. And we’re not just talking dangerous street drugs with who-knows-what toxic additives. Even pure pharmaceutical grade drugs can cause all sorts of problems beyond dependence and addiction.

Our advice to everyone is to avoid all drugs that might mess with your mind and body. With so many different and unknown drugs like K2 being passed around, the best response we know of is the old “just say no!”

If you or a loved one needs help finding the best addiction treatment center in West Palm Beach, Summer House Detox Center offers drug and alcohol detox in a relaxed, luxurious setting to help you experience a safe, long-lasting recovery from alcohol addiction. Contact us today at 800-719-1090 to learn more about our available treatment programs. You can also visit us at 13550 Memorial Highway Miami, FL 33161. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.