Governor Cuomo once called the evolution of synthetic drugs “an alarming public health risk.”
By Forum Staff
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 reported in Illinois, Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.
The severe-bleeding cases are due to the consumption of synthetic weed (“K2,” “Spice,” “AK47”) believed to be contaminated with rat poison, according to Cuomo and the Health Department.
“Laboratory investigation has confirmed that some of these patients were exposed to brodifacoum, a long-acting anti-coagulant found in rat poison. This exposure is believed to have come from synthetic cannabinoids contaminated with brodifacoum,” the advisory notes.
To date, no cases have been reported in New York.
“This disturbing outbreak proves yet again the dangers of using synthetic marijuana,” said State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D.
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.
The Cuomo administration noted that synthetic marijuana is marketed as legal and sold in colorful packets which typically consist of plant material coated by chemicals that are supposed to mimic the effects of naturally grown marijuana.
This makes synthetic marijuana both extremely unpredictable and dangerous, the governor said.
“The health and safety of New Yorkers is our number one priority,” 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.”
Cuomo has been particularly aggressive with enforcement actions when it comes to synthetic cannabinoids. In July 2016, he announced that DOH’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, in partnership with the State Police, would step up efforts in communities across the state to crack down on the illegal sale of cannabinoids like K2. Additionally, Cuomo required that the State Liquor Authority and 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 synthetic weed.
“These man-made substances are extremely dangerous and can be deadly. Sellers of these poisons must be stopped. We have raised awareness across the state about the dangers of these drugs, but today, with these actions, sellers of synthetics will now be held accountable,” State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez said at the time.
Since Cuomo 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.
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.