K2 overdoses a ‘total drain’ on downtown resources

K2 arrests announced on March 6, 2017 (Austin Police Department Photos)
K2 arrests announced on March 6, 2017 (Austin Police Department Photos)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thirty-six people are facing new charges accused of dealing K2 or related synthetic drugs. Austin police are rounding up people involved with synthetic drugs stemming from a late-2016 string of overdoses.

Overdoses have been a “total drain on our downtown police resources” as well as fire and EMS, explained APD organized crime commander Troy Officer.

As a result of the operation, officers have arrested 10 people, while five were already in jail and officers are actively looking for the other suspects related to the rash of K2 overdoses in Austin. The APD organized crime unit detailed how it is working upstream from the street dealers, going after suppliers in other cities, states, and in some cases other countries.

Targeting the homeless

Cmdr. Officer explained how “predator dealers” come downtown and target the homeless community surrounding the ARCH.

“By no means is this a homeless problem, but with the concentration of the homeless population, it has been most evident in our downtown area,” he said. “I think we’ve done our community a disservice by calling this drug a synthetic marijuana. This is no more marijuana than if I put bleach in a martini glass and called it a cocktail. This does not have the effects of marijuana. This is a public safety and public health issue and unless we attack it as such we’re doing our community a disservice.”

Commander Justin Newsome described the K2 situation in downtown Austin as an epidemic with officers dealing with 7-10 cases a day.

“In addition to the public health risk to the people who are using it, you never know what a person on that is going to do. The effects go beyond the physical effects,” Newsome said. “These [dealers] are predators” targeting the homeless.

Austin-Travis County EMS Commander Mike Benavides echoed APD’s sentiments about the drug calling it a poison.

“These things are not drugs. We’re reluctant to call these overdoses because there is no proper dose… you can die from one hit,” he added.

The challenge facing officers

Unlike dealing with an epidemic of crack cases, where officers can quickly identify the drug using field tests and arrest the suspect, when officers encounter a person with a substance they suspect to be K2 or another synthetic drug, they have to confiscate the drug and send it off for testing and let the person go. It takes months of lab testing to identify the drug before a warrant can be issued for the person’s arrest.

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