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New Ingredient In Skid Row 'Spice' May Have Caused 14 Overdoses In 3 Days

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On Saturday we reported that eight people had been hospitalized after possible overdoses on Skid Row on Friday night. Over the weekend, that number jumped to 14. The culprit? A new, potentially deadly ingredient in "spice," synthetic marijuana known to cause psychotic episodes and more recently on Skid Row has led to users passing out unconscious on the sidewalk.

According to the L.A. Times, three more people were taken to the hospital to treat overdoses on Saturday from the same area. Rev. Andy Bales with the Union Rescue Mission told ABC 7 that four people were found passed out on the same corner on Sunday. "Spice has been an epidemic, and now with this extra ingredient, it's possibly a deadly epidemic," he said. At just $1 or less per joint, spice, also referred to as "incense" or "potpourri," is an affordable, untraceable, way for those on Skid Row to get high.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph told the Times:

They change the chemical components to make it untraceable. It's five times stronger than marijuana, and can cause two common signs of overdosing depending on the chemical components. One is the appearance of paralysis or someone being in a catatonic state for hours. Or causing them to hallucinate and go berserk for long trips.
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While authorities are still investigating what exactly is being added to this batch, spice itself is made out of a cocktail of cheap chemicals found in household products. This chemical irregularity is a factor in its unpredictability. As Rolling Stone noted last year, "When users are grabbing different brands made from different chemicals with different potencies, monitoring dosage is difficult, and may lead to the accidental ingestion of more than intended."

When spice is smoked, it releases a distinct smell which can make people sick even via secondhand fumes—this is in fact what sent one of the responding LAPD officers to the hospital on Saturday.

Bales told ABC that it "smells like marijuana, with some plastic and rubber mixed in—it's just a horrible smell that I've choked on a few times, but this seems to have an additive ingredient that is causing people to keel over who come near the smoke."

A man named Twin Skid Row told the Times that on Friday he saw people, "passing out like dominoes." The mass overdoses were so concerning that HazMat was called, and some surrounding streets were totally closed.

Bales told KPCC:

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We've dealt with alcohol for years. We've dealt with crack cocaine. We've dealt with heroin. We've dealt with meth. But spice — and people using spice — is the most unpredictable drug we've ever had to come up against in our work.