Synthetic marijuana believed to be cause of 8 deaths

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (WPVI) -- Hospitals in the Lehigh Valley are dealing with an increase in drug overdoses all connected to synthetic marijuana, like K2.

This week 8 people died from drug overdoses in Lehigh County and health officials believe synthetic marijuana may be to blame.

At Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, emergency room doctors have treated 30 patients suffering the adverse effects of overdosing on synthetic marijuana since April first, several just on Wednesday.

There have been 50 cases citywide, 9 in Bethlehem, and all since last week.

"I am alarmed at the spike that we're seeing and the question is at what point does it stop," Dr. Robert Tomsho said.

The synthetic marijuana surfacing in this county and others is similar to K2, a leafy substance sprayed with chemicals.

In these latest cases that exact chemical is not known.

It's packaged to look something like potpourri, costs as little as $20, and users might think it's harmless to smoke.

But users from ages 13 to 60 have come into emergency rooms with extreme reactions that are leading to kidney failure and muscle breakdown requiring sedation and ventilation.

"They are coming in acutely delirious. They are agitated. They're exhibiting remarkable strength that's requiring three, four, five people to hold them down so we can get them sedated," Dr. Tomsho said.

Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin is sounding the alarm to avoid synthetic marijuana.

"Why put yourself at risk to suffer in any deleterious effect if it can simply be avoided by not using it. I don't mean to sound nave when I say that but that's a pretty simple solution to what could be a life-threatening problem," Martin said.

Health officials are waiting for toxicology results before they can say definitively that those who passed away died of overdoses from synthetic marijuana and not another drug.

The bottom line is parents should talk to children. Adults should talk with family members. And if anyone comes across this synthetic marijuana they should turn it over to police to be tested.
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