Spice overdoses now an 'epidemic' for Tucson

Spice overdoses now an 'epidemic' for Tucson

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The increasing number of spice overdoses, also known as synthetic marijuana, has been stressing Tucson police resources.

Tucson Police Department Assistant Police Chief Roman Batista said he did not want to sound like an alarmist, but called these overdoses an epidemic sweeping throughout Tucson.

Both police and paramedics said they are now responding to several overdose calls every single day.

Staff at the Arizona Poison Control Center said they have seen a huge spike in the number of overdose calls in the months of May and April this year.

So far, the poison control center has received 93 overdose calls in 2015, a record number for the department.

Several deaths linked to the substance have also been reported throughout the nation.

Medical volunteers with Tucson emergency responders said it's a scary, common sight on the streets.

"You'll see people shaking," said Rick McCallum, an emergency medical responder. "Often times people can suffer kidney damage and have seizures. We often find people occasionally near death and have to call paramedics instantly."

Although spice is known widely as synthetic marijuana, those who have used the substance said the effects are nothing like marijuana.

Many who have been taken to emergency rooms after smoking the substance have had strokes, neurological problems and some have even blacked out.

Oscar Ybarra, a spice user, said he went to the hospital twice in one night from using the substance.

"It gives you like an acid trip," he said. "Then you get paranoid and kind of high."

Ybarra said a joint can be purchased as low as $2.

Many of the ingredients that make up spice are illegal, but manufacturers keep changing the recipe to keep some of the product on the shelves.

The substance is sold in colorful packages, often marked "not for human consumption."

Police said a lot of illegal spice is also being sold under the table and out the back door at local smoke shops.

The Pima County Health Department is teaming up with local law enforcement agencies to start a campaign to warn people the dangers of spice, and combat the growing epidemic.

"We are trying to get the message out not just to the users but to the business folks as well, take it off your shelves," Batista said. "It's not worth it. They're damaging the youth in our community because it's so inexpensive."

@SonuWasu wrote a special report on spice last week. Read it here: http://tucsonne.ws/1fDXGev

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