Overview of the K2 (synthetic cannabinoid) public health crisis and The Doe Fund’s opposition to its presence in New York City. The Doe Fund is committed to protesting any establishment that continues to sell K2 in New York City.
Synthetic cannabinoids, commonly called K2, are a class of compounds designed to mimic the action of 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of marijuana. K2 is not marijuana.
Synthetic cannabinoids can be anywhere from two to 100 times more potent than THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
K2 is typically composed of herbs sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic phenethylamines. It is often produced with chemicals exported from nations with poor industrial, environmental, and public health infrastructure.
K2 is sold as incense, herbal mixtures, or potpourri, often in packages featuring cartoon characters and carrying the warning “not for human consumption.”
K2 is packaged under numerous brand names, including: Spice, AK-47, Geeked up, Smacked, Green Giant, Scooby Snax, Red Giant, Mr. Bad Guy, iBlown, and Trippy. Click here for a more comprehensive list of brand names.
The scale of K2 production varies greatly, from large warehouses to the back of small stores.
It has been illegal to possess, sell, offer to sell, or manufacture synthetic cannabinoids in New York State since 2012.
Consequences for retailers selling K2 include up to a year in prison, fines of more than $100,000, prosecution under federal law, closure and eviction as a “public nuisance,” and suspension or revocation of their DCA cigarette retail dealer license. Stores in possession of synthetic cannabinoids can be fined $250 per packet.
Sale or possession of small amounts of K2 is considered a violation, rather than a crime.
Manufacturers have often managed to stay a step ahead of law enforcement by changing the mixture of chemicals used in K2 production.
DOCUMENTED HEALTH EFFECTS
The chemicals found in K2 vary from packet to packet, and potency can differ even within one packet, making the effects of K2 unpredictable.
Side effects of K2 include increased heart rate, hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, irritability, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness. Severe side effects include kidney failure, heart attack or death.
More than 6,000 K2-related emergency room visits have occurred in New York City since 2015.
Death is a rare but serious risk associated with the use of K2. Three people have died as a result of K2 use between 2010 and 2015.
THE DOE FUND’S POSITION
The majority of the tens of thousands of men served through The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able transitional work program have a history of drug use. Many come from the neighborhoods hardest hit by drugs, including K2.
Two of The Doe Fund’s facilities are within twelve blocks of the Bedford-Stuyvesant intersection that has become the most recent epicenter in New York City’s K2 public health crisis.
The Doe Fund will continue to voice its opposition to the presence of K2 in Bedford-Stuyvesant and any New York City neighborhood.
RECENT TIMELINE OF K2-RELATED EVENTS
Week beginning July 11, 2016: 130 people in New York City were hospitalized as a result of suspected K2 overdoses.
July 12, 2016: 33 people from a concentrated area in Bedford-Stuyvesant required hospitalization as a result of apparent K2 overdoses.
July 13, 2016: The Doe Fund’s ‘Men in Blue’ joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in Bedford-Stuyvesant to distribute information to the public about the dangers of K2.
July 13, 2016: Just hours after Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ public awareness event, police and the City Sheriff’s Department inspected five retail establishments in Bedford-Stuyvesant. No K2 was recovered.
July 14, 2016: The Doe Fund held a demonstration outside Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Big Boy Deli, commonly identified as a primary source of K2 in that community.
July 17, 2016: Senator Chuck Schumer announced legislation to add three derivatives of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and 19 other substances frequently used in synthetic drugs to the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances. Fifteen synthetic cannabinoids are currently classified as Schedule 1.
July 18, 2016: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a Rochester convenience store owner was arrested and charged for selling K2. The arrest came as part of an investigation that resulted in the seizure of more than 150 packets of K2 from stores in Rochester.
July 20, 2016: The NYPD files nuisance abatement actions against Big Boy Deli and Dream Burner Smoke Shop, businesses suspected of selling K2. Such civil lawsuits can result in year-long closures.
August 2, 2016: The Doe Fund continued its commitment to a K2-free Bed-Stuy with a community march. More than forty trainees from The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able transitional work program led the march, joined by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, and District Leader Tommy Torres.
“What we are seeing now with K2 is exactly what we saw with the crack epidemic in the 1980s. Drugs continue to devastate our poorest communities and send countless people into the criminal justice system, away from their families and communities, out of mainstream society, and into the cycle of poverty, incarceration, homelessness, and hopelessness.” – George McDonald, Founder and President of The Doe Fund.
“This isn’t a cheaper form of marijuana. This is just a cheaper form of death.” – George McDonald, Founder and President of The Doe Fund.
“The evolution of synthetic drugs is an alarming public health risk – but we are on the front lines of the battle. The state will continue to identify emerging compounds that put users in danger and aggressively chase down sellers of these toxic substances.” – Governor Andrew Cuomo
“We need a federal hammer to nail these toxic concoctions of synthetic drugs before things get worse. Banning these drugs quickly will help federal agents stem the tide of synthetic drug use in New York and across the country.” – Senator Chuck Schumer
“We have no intent to let a new epidemic of drug incidents overtake this city. We’re coming after you. We’re coming after you big time.” – Police Commissioner Bill Bratton
“We dropped the ball during the early 80s with the crack epidemic. We’re not going to drop the ball now with K2 and heroin finding a new foothold in our communities.” – Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President
“We don’t need this in our community. It’s like the crack epidemic all over again.” – Michael Deamus, Doe Fund trainee
Press release: The Doe Fund’s Men in Blue Demand an End to K2 Sales
NYC Health Department: K2 information for consumers and retailers
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Acute Poisoning from Synthetic Cannabinoids
Healthline: K2 poisonings show dangers of synthetic drugs
Information in this document was compiled from reports by the New York City Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The New York Times, CNN, and New York Daily News.