‘Capital for A Day’ Addresses Ways to Combat Synthetic Drugs in Upstate New York

State Agencies met with health and law enforcement officials in Onondaga County to discuss spike in synthetic drug use and strategies to decrease impact of these dangerous drugs on communities

SYRACUSE, NY (October 1, 2015) – The New York State Department of Health (DOH), State Police (NYSP), Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and Office of Mental Health (OMH) met with local health and law enforcement officials Wednesday, at the third “Capital for A Day” event in Syracuse. As a result of a successful listening session, DOH Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, and NYSP Superintendent, Joseph D’Amico along with OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez and OMH Commissioner, Ann Sullivan announced ways state and local officials can partner to combat the manufacturing, sale and use of synthetic cannabinoids.

“Synthetic cannabinoids are emerging as a serious health problem in New York and we must respond aggressively to stop their sale, distribution and use” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Zucker. “By collaborating with local health and law enforcement officials, we plan to end this rapidly growing public health crisis and stop the influx of these highly dangerous substances.”

Between April 1 and September 3, 2015, New York State had more than 4,700 emergency department visits and 1,100 calls to poison control centers due to reports of adverse health effects associated with synthetic cannabinoid use. This represents more than an eightfold increase over the same period in 2014, when the state had more than 230 emergency department visits and 130 poison control center calls.

As part of Capital for a Day, OASAS shared Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s new public awareness campaign to educate New Yorkers about the serious harms of these drugs. The campaign includes a television public service announcement, posters, informational palm cards, and updated website information that describe the serious health effects associated with smoking these harmful, chemical-laden drugs. The PSA will begin airing statewide in October. Posters and palm cards will be distributed in public areas where high usage of these drugs has been reported, including areas where vulnerable individuals, including those who are homeless or mentally ill, may reside.

“The intent of this new campaign is for New Yorkers to understand that this so called ‘synthetic marijuana’ is nothing more than a poison sprayed on leaves that is being marketed illegally and inaccurately,” said NYS OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez. “New Yorkers need to know that synthetics are very dangerous and that help for addiction is available.”

Synthetic cannabinoids, often referred to as ‘Spike, Spice or K2’ are marketed as legal and sold as incense, herbal mixtures, or potpourri in order to mask their true purpose. Names on the packaging include Spice, K2, Green Giant, Smacked, Wicked X, AK-47, Geeked Up, Ninja, Caution, Red Giant, Keisha Kole to name a few. The drugs are coated in chemicals that mimic THC, the active chemical compound in marijuana.

Users of the synthetic mixtures never know how the drugs will affect them because the exact contents vary. Possible effects may include renal failure, death, agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, tremor, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, arrested heart rate, loss of consciousness and violent behavior. These effects can be similar to those of phencyclidine, or PCP. As the chemicals in these drugs are changed by the manufacturers, the health effects can change and the patients being seen during this recent increase in cases are much sicker than in previous years.

“Synthetic cannabinoids can lead to serious mental health issues, including: hallucinations, paranoia, and agitated behavior. For individuals with preexisting mental illness, these drugs can exacerbate their symptoms and may cause serious medical problems,” said Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan. “New Yorkers must be aware of the risks posed by these dangerous drugs and under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State is leading a multi-pronged fight against these unsafe substances.”

Governor Cuomo banned the sale and possession of synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts in 2012. But since then, producers have been attempting to skirt New York’s strict regulations by developing new chemicals not specifically identified in regulation.

To circumvent this problem, Governor Cuomo recently released new emergency regulations that add two additional classes of compounds to the banned substances list, which potentially include hundreds of different hazardous chemicals. The new regulations were approved on August 6, 2015 by the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council and filed with the Department of State.

New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said, "The dangers of synthetic narcotics are well documented, with very serious health and public safety issues that have occurred because of the increase in use. The State Police are committed to working with our state, local and federal partners to rid our streets of these hazardous substances."

If you think someone has used a synthetic drug, call the New York State Regional Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. In a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

If you are aware of locations where these products are being manufactured, sold, or distributed, please call the Synthetic Drug Hotline at 1-888-99-SALTS (1-888-997-2587). Additional information on synthetic cannabinoids is available here.

New Yorkers struggling with an addiction, or whose loved ones are struggling can call or text the State’s toll-free, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week, HOPEline, 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369). The HOPEline is staffed by trained clinicians who are ready to answer questions and offer treatment referrals. Additional resources are available through the NYS OASAS website here. A list of addiction treatment providers is available here. For tools to use in talking to a young person about preventing alcohol or drug use, visit the State’s Talk2Prevent website here.