Spike in medical calls linked to synthetic marijuana

- For 33 years, employees at Listening House in downtown St. Paul have helped the homeless battle poverty, mental illness and addiction.

But lately they don't like what they are hearing and seeing on the street.

"It's fairly common for people to be in that trance-like state and then fall out and wind up in the middle of traffic," Listening House employee Ed Hilbrich said.

St. Paul Police say there have been at least 60 medical calls for people suspected of overdosing on K2 or synthetic marijuana over the last couple of weeks.

Most of the calls are around the Dorothy Day Center and Higher Ground Shelter, where the homeless congregate.

Users suffer from symptoms like seizures, vomiting or appear to be in a zombie-like state.

"It’s a very cheap drug with a very intense high. Cheaper than marijuana. Second to meth as far as its availability," Hilbrich said.

Minnesota banned some versions of "fake pot" a few years ago, but it's difficult for lawmakers to keep up with the drug's ever changing chemical makeup.

Poison control officials say some of the newer versions can be deadly.

"It’s concerning and it is dangerous. It was something that before people thought that pot can't hurt me. If this is synthetic pot, it will be fine. The early stuff that was kind of true. The new stuff, we have no idea," Minnesota Poison Control Center educator Kirk Hughes said.

Some worry the spike is stretching already over extended police, paramedic, and hospital resources even further. While others worry a community facing so many obstacles will have to overcome one more.

"It's just the new flavor on the block. The latest flavor. That's all it is," Hilbrich said.

So far, authorities don't believe any overdoses have resulted in death.

Representatives for St. Paul Police, Fire, and other interested parties will meet on Tuesday to figure out how to handle the situation.

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