Texarkana issues public health emergency

Synthetic Marijuana causes local overdoses


Anna Bell Lee

Photo illustration: Synthetic Marijuana is a deadly substance made artificially with illegal chemicals sprayed on ground leaves. Texarkana has seen a sharp increase in overdoses in the past few weeks due to the deadly substances in this drug.

Story by Anna Bell Lee, Staff Writer

The light fades. Their eyes close. Their life ends: all because of one choice. 

Throughout the past few weeks, the twin city of Texarkana saw seven deaths and 17 overdoses due to use of illicit synthetic cannabinoids, more commonly known as K2 or synthetic marijuana. 

“We’re losing citizens because of this drug, and it is now very evident that this is in our community,” Texarkana, Ark. Mayor Alan Brown said. “Our responsibility is the safety of our citizens, and we take it very seriously.”

Synthetic cannabinoids have become a modern problem for most communities. The drug is made by a variety of chemicals that are sprayed onto ground up leaves. This drug does not show up on a drug test, which is what has inclined citizens to the use of it along with the packaging, which advertises them as recreational use drugs.

“You can go to places and find [the drugs] commercially packaged,” Lieutenant Mike Harris said. “Most of [the drugs sold in Texarkana] are coming from your street level drug dealers.”

Texas only qualifies certain chemicals as narcotics when it comes to drug testing. If the synthetic marijuana does not match the specific chemical profile, the product will technically not be considered an illicit drug. 

“A lot of people think they are flying under the radar when using synthetic marijuana,” Bowie County Health Authority Dr. Matt Young said. “Synthetic marijuana [is not the same as marijuana] and should not be even stated as that.”

While there has been consistent change in the chemicals to keep them legal, there has been action in the past by the government to try and prevent the use of this substance. The Synthetic Drug Prevention Act of 2012 labeled 26 variations of synthetic cannabinoids permanently illegal. 

“I think this is a problem across the board, across the U.S and internationally,” Public Information Officer Shawn Vaughn said. “The thing that makes [these] particular episodes unique is the concentration of people that have overdosed.”

Cities around the Dallas area also recently experienced a rise in overdoses due to synthetic marijuana.

A lot of people think they are flying under the radar when using synthetic marijuana. Synthetic marijuana [is not the same as marijuana] and should not be even stated as that.

— Matt Young

“We have partnered with some other federal resources to the [area] of Dallas [and are] working strongly with them,” Arkansas Chief of Police Michael Kramm said. “We are collaboratively relying on various devices.”

Officials cited an ongoing investigation concerning the distinct chemicals being used.

“Initially, we were constantly chasing [the synthetic marijuana] because they’d go out there and they’d add one little part or take out one little part or something,” Vaughn said. “K2 is so flexible in terms of [what chemicals are used].”

The police departments partnered with the Drug Enforcement Administration to try and get to the bottom of the situation. The victims responded to narcan after overdosing, another unsettling fact for the city.

“We have partnered with the DEA and have sent those substances to their lab,” Brown said. “They’re doing [a] very interesting analysis to try and determine exactly what it is that has been sprayed on this K2, and why it is actually responding to the Narcan.”

The deaths impacted Texarkana and caused a panic amongst many parents as many teenagers experiment with drugs. 

“My first reaction was panic and fear because of how appealing some of the packaging can be,” Texas High parent Dawn Williams said. “There are so many more decisions and harsh realities that kids are faced with today compared to when I was coming up.”

The police departments of both sides of the city advised that people stay aware and stay educated throughout the increase of this product. 

“We want people to understand [if they are using that], one use and truly one pill can kill,” Young said. “We’ve got to get the word out. Do not be scared to dial 911 and do not be afraid to reach out for help.”