Evansville Courier and Press on 03/07/2018 by Jon Webb
So many people were vomiting, and emergency responders didn’t know why.
Eight people between Second and Third avenues in Evansville were found sick, unconscious or a mix of the two last Thursday. Fearing some kind of mass overdose, the Evansville Fire Department administered Narcan, but it didn’t work.
After speaking to the victims, police and fire officials determined the likely culprit: K-2.
“We’re thinking it was the same batch or at least the same supplier,” Ron Campbell, chief of operations for the EFD, told the Courier & Press.
Opioids rightfully get most of the attention in Evansville’s battle against drug abuse, but K2, also known as Spice and several other brand names, has been a lower-level scourge in the area for years.
K2 was responsible for two deaths in Vanderburgh County last year, according to coroner Steve Lockyear. And Terrence Roach, the man accused of killing Aleah Beckerle, allegedly told police he was high on the drug when he kidnapped the disabled teen in 2016.
It’s also been blamed in several local DUI cases. And on Monday, an Evansville man was arrested and accused of manufacturing the drug after police reportedly discovered more than two pounds of the stuff inside his house.
So what is it?
Chemically, it changes constantly. But we do know what it’s not.
It’s often called “synthetic marijuana” because the two drugs share a passing resemblance. But if K2 is synthetic marijuana, then cocaine is synthetic sugar.
The two drugs have nothing in common aside from their appearance. Whereas weed gives you feelings of euphoria and makes you giggle, K2 can either transform you into a lumbering zombie or a flailing maniac.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, it can inflict users with “anxiety, agitation, nausea and vomiting, high blood pressure, shaking and seizures, hallucinations and paranoia, and they may act violently.”
Robert Glatter, an emergency room doctor in New York, told NPR in 2015 that it often takes multiple nurses and physicians to strap down overdose victims because they become “violent and very strong.” As I was writing this on Tuesday, Evansville-Vanderburgh Dispatch fielded a call about a possible K2 user screeching at customers and workers inside the North Main Street McDonald’s.
The reason the reactions vary? Because the drug does, too.
K2 is created by spraying chemicals on dried plants. Labs that have tested the compounds in K2 have found everything from bath salts to generic ecstasy. According to the NPR report, traces of opioids have been found in different batches as well.
The rotating cast of ingredients made it difficult for Indiana to outlaw synthetic drugs. Until a few years ago, you could buy the stuff at gas stations.
Appeals court: Indiana’s ‘spice’ law too vague
The 2014 law had to declare more than 80 compounds illegal in drug manufacturing, and the Indiana Court of Appeals said the legislation was too wide-reaching and confusing to enforce. After a long fight, however, the state Supreme Court eventually gave it the green light.
Some lawmakers think that’s still not enough. There’s a skinny chance manufacturers could create K2 out of a chemical not included in that Tolstoy novel of a law, state Sen. Jim Merritt told me last fall.
“All the sudden you change the molecules and it’s now legal again,” Merritt said.
That uncertainty is what makes K2 so vexing. The batch that turned part of Evansville into a three-block vomitorium was laced with some unknown chemical. Local officials will pin it down eventually, but the next batch could be different. So could the batch after that.
Marilyn Huestis, a chief researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, summed it up best.
“It’s like taking a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and throwing it up in the air and piecing it together without a picture,” she told NPR. “So here we are in the hospital or police lab, and they have no idea what to look for.”