Pubdate: Thu, 06 Aug 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Tegan Hanlon


Anchorage police said Wednesday that at least 30 people were taken to 
the hospital over the past four days with serious health problems 
related to using Spice, an illegal designer drug.

In response to the recent increase in Spice-related hospitalizations, 
police released a statement Wednesday afternoon asking people to 
contact them with any information on the source of the synthetic drug 
banned by local laws and a state law.

Lisa Sauder, the executive director of Bean's Cafe, said Wednesday 
that a stream of ambulances responded throughout the day to the 
downtown soup kitchen that provides meals and social services for 
homeless people.

"It's like a war zone," Sauder said. "This is just out of control."

At least seven people in Anchorage went to the hospital Wednesday for 
health problems that stemmed from Spice use, police said. That 
followed five hospitalizations on Tuesday, eight on Monday and 10 on 
Sunday, according to police.

"People are just collapsing and becoming unresponsive. Some are 
complaining about chest pain. Some are having seizures," Sauder said.

Some people suffered the symptoms on Bean's Cafe property Wednesday 
and others were nearby. In several cases, staff administered CPR, Sauder said.

"It's unbelievable," she said. "It's scary."

To make Spice, manufacturers typically spray psychotropic compounds 
on plant materials. But police said Wednesday that they believe those 
recently hospitalized may have used Spice that was combined "with 
flora that has 'hemlock like' characteristics."

The ever-changing ingredients of Spice once dizzied the lawmakers who 
attempted to ban it. The Anchorage Assembly outlawed Spice in 2010 
based on the drug's composition. But nimble manufacturers could 
quickly change the ingredients.

In January 2014, the Assembly passed a new law that banned Spice 
based on its packaging and a list of labeling criteria. Later that 
year, a similarly worded statewide ban went into effect.

Under the Anchorage law, people or businesses caught possessing or 
selling Spice can face fines of $500 for each package of the drug found.

Jennifer Castro, police spokeswoman, said police have not yet pinned 
down where the Spice that triggered the hospitalizations this week came from.

Police have not recently issued any tickets for Spice, she said, nor 
have they seen Spice sold in smoke shops.

However, Castro noted that sources have told police that some shops 
may continue to quietly sell Spice behind the counter.

Police said those hospitalized for Spice this week have come from 
downtown Anchorage, Muldoon and Midtown. Most of the patients were 
homeless and their ages varied, Castro said.

Symptoms ranged from "not being able to breathe to loss of 
consciousness, seizures and rapid heart rate causing respiratory 
failure," police said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Bean's Cafe held a memorial for seven people 
who recently died, some found on Anchorage streets and others in tents.

Sauder said that while there's no definitive proof, she suspects 
Spice may have led to some of those deaths.

"It's sunny. It's beautiful weather," she said. "We've had high 
numbers (of deaths) due to exposure and inclement weather. Our 
clients, our friends are not dying of exposure."

She said that Anchorage medics and police chaplains reminded Bean's 
Cafe clients Wednesday that "you don't know what's in Spice. You 
don't know what it is."

Castro said police will have to wait for toxicology reports to 
determine if any of the chemicals found in Spice were also found in 
the bodies. She said some of the health symptoms that appeared to 
lead to the deaths, like cardiac arrest, can also arise as symptoms 
of using Spice.

At Bean's Cafe, Sauder said staff fear that at the beginning of the 
month, when clients receive checks -- some for disabilities, some for 
other reasons -- more drug- and alcohol-related problems will arise.

"It appears our worst fears have come true," she said.

Staff members have found Spice on clients this week, she said. They 
have turned over a few bags of evidence to police. In one case, they 
took a rolled Spice cigarette out of a client's clenched fist, she said.

Sauder said she believes Spice's cheap price and intense high may 
attract Bean's Cafe clients to the drug. She said Bean's Cafe staff 
believes the Spice is coming from dealers on the street.

City spokesperson Myer Hutchinson said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz remained 
in regular contact with police and medics this week about those 
hospitalized for Spice-related health problems.

"There's the concern that it's coming from outside Anchorage and 
we're eager to track that down," Hutchinson said.

Sauder thanked Anchorage police, medics, the mayor's office and 
governor's office Wednesday for working with Bean's Cafe over the 
past several weeks -- during the string of deaths and now the 
onslaught of Spice-related hospitalizations.

"They are all working with us and that's what it's going to take," she said.

Police are asking anyone with information on the suppliers of the 
Spice to call Anchorage Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP or go to
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