April 28, 2023

Oneida County Overdose Response Team Issues Synthetic Marijuana Advisory

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The Oneida County Overdose Response Team has issued a public health advisory in regards to synthetic marijuana being laced with fentanyl.

Overdose Detection & Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) data showed that seven non-fatal overdoses occurred from April 19-25, 2023 that were attributed to synthetic marijuana that is suspected to contain fentanyl. The individuals affected exhibited opioid-like overdose symptoms such as respiratory depression, decreased mental status and pinpoint pupils and they responded to Narcan.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana, also known as fake weed, is a synthetic cannabinoid containing man-made, mind-altering chemicals that are intended to produce the same effects of natural cannabis. The chemicals are sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices. Their effects can be volatile, and at times, life-threatening. Death can occur when opioids, such as fentanyl, are added without the user knowing.

“The drug landscape is rapidly changing and unpredictable, compounding the challenges and dangers associated with it, including increasing the frequency in which we need to inform the community about emerging and harmful drug trends," said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “With this recent cluster of synthetic marijuana overdoses suspected to contain fentanyl, it’s imperative we warn the community. We cannot overstate the fact that any legal or illegal drug that is sold on the streets could be cut with toxic substances without the user’s knowledge and can result in severe injury or death.”

Synthetic marijuana can be obtained at convenience stores and smoke shops, from individuals who sell or share drugs or online as incense or natural herbal products. They are sold under a number of brand names, including but not limited to “K2,, “Spice,” “AK-47,” “Mr. Happy,” “Scooby Snax,” “Kush” or “Kronic.”

“Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the clinical effects after using these synthetic substances, especially as the local supply becomes contaminated,” said Dr. Avinash Kambhampati, Emergency Physician and Assistant Medical Director, MVHS Faxton-St. Luke’s Campus. “Specifically, with synthetic marijuana, this can range from respiratory depression to psychomotor agitation."

The Overdose Response Team’s surveillance program involves not only tracking overdoses in real-time, but consulting with public health partners on the front lines such as first responders, treatment and recovery providers and hospital emergency departments when a cluster of overdoses or drug trend of concern is detected.

People struggling with addiction to any substance are encouraged to adopt harm reduction strategies including naloxone (Narcan), fentanyl test strips and never using drugs alone to prevent accidental overdose death, as well as seek treatment and recovery support services.

Anyone in need of Narcan can request a free kit through the Oneida County Health Department’s Narcan-by-Mail program at www.ocopioidtaskforce.org.  A listing of local Opioid Task Force partner agencies with harm reduction, treatment, and/or recovery services is also available on the website.

Oneida County Partners