TULSA- Tulsa police on Thursday searched for the suppliers of a batch of synthetic marijuana that sent at least 24 people to hospitals this week in what state narcotics officials said was the "most unusual" cluster of likely overdoses resulting from the substance in Oklahoma.
Three men have been arrested since nine people got sick outside a downtown soup kitchen on Tuesday. One of the men worked at an east Tulsa convenience store that allegedly sold some of the drugs. Paramedics responded Thursday to at least two more cases, leading authorities to believe that more of the batch may still be in circulation.
"Obviously, these gentlemen have been in jail since Tuesday night and we're still having people going down," said Tulsa police officer Jeanne MacKenzie. "We need to get this batch off the street."
Police say the strong reactions were caused by a substance similar to K2, a highly potent and potentially fatal synthetic marijuana sold in hundreds of varieties on the street, through underground websites and in some convenience stores.
Shops market the drug as potpourri or incense, and often package batches with an edgy name and cartoon characters to target younger users, said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. One of the overdose patients in Tulsa was 12. Other side effects of K2 include hallucinations, seizures and vomiting, MacKenzie said.
"These substances are dangerous, period," said Kelli Bruer, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority. "There is no 'good batch' or 'bad batch.'"
Since 2008, when K2 began hitting the Oklahoma market, an annual average of about 150 people are hospitalized and two to three die as a result of ingesting or smoking the drug, according to the state's narcotics bureau.
"It's the most unusual case of K2 overdose cases that we've ever seen," Woodward said Thursday. "We've never had a cluster of patients anywhere close to 20."
The drug has proven challenging to fight for law enforcement agencies, because manufacturers constantly tweak formulas and brand names as states pass laws banning certain ingredients used in K2, officials said.
"As states outlaw the chemicals, they pull off a molecule, so oftentimes, no two batches are the same," Woodward said. "It's kind of like a cat and mouse game."
By Justine Jouzapacicius - AP/Oct. 22, 2015