AUSTIN (KXAN) — The list of Texas Department of State Health Services reportable events made up mostly of infectious diseases, but after a difficult and taxing summer of K2-synthetic marijuana calls, Austin-Travis Emergency Medical Services wants to discuss making an addition.
Time and resources have been stretched then this summer as ATCEMS has responded to more than 450 calls and treated nearly 500 patients for the effects of K2 use. And those numbers only include the patients EMS can see, not those who show up to hospitals on their own or suffer without a medic response.
“It is early on, it is quick, and is incomplete. We are only getting part of the picture,” said Captain Rick Rutledge with ATCEMS.
Making K2 cases reportable may help hospitals and first responders get ahead of a problem they have spent plenty of time chasing. Although no formal proposal has been drawn up, ATCEMS said they have discussed the possibility and potential benefits of making K2 a reportable event.
“It would give us a more complete picture, identify who is suing it, where they are using it, and we can target prevention efforts,” said Rutledge.
Austin Health and Human Services has been in on the discussion according to Rutledge. Austin/Travis HHSD told KXAN although there are some local efforts that could be utilized to increase the amount of K2 reports, making the cases reportable by law would require the state health department adding it to the list of reportable events.
Cases across the country
The Centers for Disease Control says the number of people nationwide who called U.S. poison centers after having bad reactions to synthetic marijuana, commonly known as K2, spiked the month before Austin’s outbreak of bad K2 reactions began.
Between Jan. 1 – July 6 of this year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers says 4,377 people called poison centers in reference to K2, which is higher than the number of calls in all of 2013 and 2014.
Nearly two-thirds of this year’s calls came in April and May alone, peaking at nearly 500 calls the week of April 16.
The CDC report one in nine callers between January and May suffered a “major adverse effect” which they describe as “signs or symptoms that are life-threatening or result in substantial residual disability or disfigurement.” Nearly half had moderate symptoms, which typically require medical treatment.
15 people (0.5 percent of the 3,572 who called for help) died as a result of using K2.
In Travis County, Austin-Travis County EMS says since May 29, they have treated 487 people for bad reactions to the synthetic drug.