A Response to the Brooklyn K2 Overdoses

A Response to the Brooklyn K2 Overdoses

In response to an article comparing people under the influence of the synthetic cannabis substance K2 to “the walking dead,” CUNY Baruch SSDP chapter leader Leland Radovanovic submitted the following editorial to the NY Daily News. 

Prohibition strikes again, this time in the form of a synthetic pseudo cannabinoid created as an alternative to cannabis that doesn’t show up on drug tests. While the initial response of many will be to vilify the newest scary drug, the smarter course of action is to equip people with enough knowledge to keep them safe when ingesting K2. It’s a fact that illegal or not, people will do drugs.

Prohibition and the War on Drugs are the reasons this chemical was even created. A new way to get high, without letting The Man know. We are quick to arrest and slow to understand. Who are the primary users of K2? Marginalized peoples. Why are they using K2? It can pass a drug test, and the high is good enough to risk the adverse effects. It’s also cheap. Yes, the side-effects can be terrible, but the recent “bad batch” that came through shows us that leaving people uninformed can cause even more harm. It’s time for some simple harm reduction.

We will give a child a helmet to protect their head while riding a bike. When at the beach we put sunscreen on our skin, and shades for our eyes. You buckle your seatbelt, right? Just like giving out clean needles to intravenous drug users, these are all forms of harm reduction, tricks to keep us a little safer when doing things that can potentially harm our bodies. Whether that harm comes from the sun or drugs, it’s all the same. Being that K2 is a research chemical with a range of effects, there are things you can do to stay safe when imbibing:

  1. Titrate. Do small amounts at first. Don’t smoke the whole bag right away. Each bag can be different in potency since  it is unregulated. Gauge the high with 10-15 minute intervals of small doses. This allows you to stop at a comfortable level. Remember, you can always do more, but never less.
  2. Don’t smoke multiple days in a row. You’ll need more each day to get high. This can increase the chances of undesirable side-effects or overdose. Talking to long-term users, you can get bad withdrawal symptoms. Give your body and mind a chance to detox.
  3. Have a sober friend. They can help if you become overwhelmed, or incase of an emergency, like an overdose. Swap places, from one day to the next, as designated sober friend.
  4. Know that as a friend, you can call 911 for an overdose. New York State has a 911 Good Samaritan/Medical Amnesty law. If you call 911 for an overdose, yours or one you witness, EMTs have to dispatch. If anyone present possesses less than 8 ounces of a controlled substance, you will not be charged and prosecuted for it. You may be arrested for possession of greater than a misdemeanor amount. The exception is if you’ve had a felony drug charge before, but the law can be used as a mitigating factor in court.

We also need to take this past week’s hospitalizations into context. While I’m not saying K2 is a safe drug, it certainly doesn’t seem to be more dangerous than alcohol. According to NYC.GOV data in 2012, 43,000 people were hospitalized for alcohol. That’s 3,500 people a month. For comparison, last July there were 1,500 hospitalizations for K2. Yet, this past March there were only 178. Scary, but it would seem safer than alcohol looking at the numbers.

Lastly, it’s understandable to want to paint a vivid picture about the 3-day uptick in K2 related hospitalizations. But, describing the scene as “The Walking Dead” is dehumanizing. Zombies can’t think. They don’t feel emotion. They’re hungry for warm live people. If that is how you feel of these people, it’d be better to come out and say it. Remember, though, that the next time you say #AllLivesMatter, it includes the humans you call zombies. Their lives matter too.