The New York State Department of Health has issued a statewide health advisory to hospitals, emergency departments and urgent care centers following severe and life-threatening bleeding cases in Illinois, Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri. The Governor and DOH are warning health care providers of an outbreak of patients in other states with severe bleeding due to the consumption of synthetic marijuana believed to be contaminated with rat poison. To date, no cases have been reported in New York State.
“The health and safety of New Yorkers is our number one priority,” Governor Cuomo said. “While there have been no current reports of these symptoms in New York, we are asking public health officials to keep an eye out and to remind people that this poison is dangerous, unpredictable and seems to be getting more so with each passing year.”
As part of the advisory, health care providers are urged to watch for severe bleeding unrelated to an injury, or bleeding without another explanation and with a possible history of synthetic marijuana use.
Synthetic marijuana is marketed as legal and sold in colorful packets with street names such as K2, Spice and AK-47. These packets typically consist of plant material coated by chemicals, which are supposed to mimic the effects of naturally grown marijuana. This makes synthetic marijuana both extremely unpredictable and dangerous.
The Governor first expanded the list of prohibited drugs and chemicals in 2012 to include dozens more substances being used to make synthetic drugs to ensure that distributors could no longer skirt the law by simply modifying the drug’s ingredients. In 2015, the Governor built on this progress by adding two additional classes of compounds to the banned substances list, which were unanimously approved by the Public Health and Health Planning Council.
In 2016, the Governor announced a new series of aggressive enforcement actions to combat the illegal sale of K2 and other synthetic cannabinoids. The Department of Health’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, in partnership with the New York State Police, stepped up enforcement efforts in communities across the state to crack down on the illegal sale of K2. The Governor also required that the State Liquor Authority and New York State Gaming Commission increase their oversight and enforcement efforts to revoke a store owner’s liquor and lottery licenses if they are found to be illegally peddling K2.
Under current law, an owner of an establishment, as well as any other person possessing, distributing, selling or offering prohibited synthetic drugs for sale, will face a fine up to $500 and/or up to 15 days in jail. Civil penalties include a fine up to $2,000 per violation.
Since the Governor announced the crackdown in 2016, State Police have made 13 arrests, seized more than 1,100 packets of synthetic marijuana, and one three-pound bulk seizure.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “This disturbing outbreak proves yet again the dangers of using synthetic marijuana. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we will continue our work to keep New Yorkers safe from this deadly substance.”