Overdose total hits 76 in Connecticut park near Yale

Thursday, August 16, 2018

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — The number of overdose victims linked to a suspected bad batch of synthetic marijuana has risen to 76 in New Haven, Connecticut, as officials try to determine exactly what sickened people.

People on and around the historic New Haven Green near Yale University began falling ill shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, and the overdoses continued into Thursday morning. No deaths were reported, and most people brought to hospitals have been discharged, officials said.

Symptoms varied. Many victims lost consciousness, officials said. Others vomited. Some just became nauseous or lethargic.

Toxicology testing remained incomplete Thursday. Some victims tested positive for the powerful opioid fentanyl, but it appeared most if not all the overdoses were caused only by a potent batch of "K2" synthetic marijuana, said Dr. Kathryn Hawk, an emergency medicine physician and professor at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where many of the victims were treated.

Hawk said the people who tested positive may have taken other drugs laced with fentanyl in addition to the synthetic marijuana, which is plant material sprayed with drugs and chemicals.

Both drugs, especially fentanyl, have been linked to rising overdoses across the country. Hawk said some people got better with the help of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, while others didn't.

"The most important point is when you buy something on the street, you never know what you're going to get," she said.

Officials said three people have been arrested in connection with the overdoses, including a man who may have been giving out free samples of K2.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration tested some of the synthetic marijuana seized in New Haven and did not find fentanyl, said Rick Fontana, the city's emergency operations director.

Fontana said 72 people were brought to hospitals and four refused to be treated or transported to hospitals.

"Yesterday was extremely, extremely busy, something we haven't seen in quite some time, a lot of people dropping all at the same time," Fontana said.

He said a few people fell ill Thursday morning, but it wasn't immediately clear if they used the same bad batch of synthetic marijuana.

New Haven first responders were called to a similar overdose outbreak on the Green on July 4, when more than a dozen people became sick from synthetic marijuana. The city also saw more than a dozen synthetic marijuana overdoses in late January. No deaths were reported in either outbreak.

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