Since a high in April, officials have seen fewer drug-related emergency room visits in Mobile hospitals, leading some to credit an increased awareness and enforcement of the synthetic marijuana known as spice.
Local law enforcement began an increased awareness and enforcement effort aimed at the drug in April, after a 17-day period where the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department responded to 26 calls related to bad spice reactions. The number of drug-related emergency room visits stayed steady in May, but began to drop off in June, according to records from the Mobile County Health Department.
In the two months since the spike, ERs at USA Medical Center, Springhill Medical Center, Mobile Infirmary and Providence Hospital have seen 133 drug-related cases. Of those, 13 can be specifically linked to spice ingestion or spice withdrawal effects. More could be spice-related, but it’s unclear because ER doctors and nurses rely on patients to tell them about illicit drug use.
Since the beginning of June though, there have been fewer drug-related visits. The week of June 3-10 saw two cases, the week of June 11-18 saw six cases and June 19-23 saw seven cases.
“We’re very encouraged that there have been fewer cases of spice-related emergency room visits in the past month than in the month before,” Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Bernard Eichold said in a statement. “That tells me efforts to get the poisonous substance off the streets is working. I want to commend local law enforcement for recognizing the dangers to our community and not letting up.”
Rassie Smith, commander of the narcotics unit for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, said awareness of spice has definitely led to its decline on the streets.
“Dealers have cut back some on spice,” he said. “According to the intelligence we have, they’re waiting for things to cool down.”
He added that larger suppliers of spice out of Florida are now refusing to come into Mobile County because the pressure is so strong.
Local law enforcement has worked to take “big time dealers” off the streets, Smith said. Changes to the chemical makeup of the drug could also be a factor in a decline of emergency room visits, he added.
“It may well be a combination of all of that,” Smith said of the reason for the decline in ER visits. “We’re glad to see it.”
Both the Sheriff’s Office and the Mobile Police Department have made significant busts related to spice since April. Deputies confiscated 489 packages, or about $15,000 worth of spice that month during a traffic stop on Interstate 10. At the time of the bust, Sheriff Sam Cochran said his office had evidence suggesting that Mobile County was the final stop for the drug.
In addition, Smith said, deputies seized about 1,000 packages from Houston in a local post office box.
The Mobile Police Department has been busy as well. In May, MPD confiscated almost 20 pounds of spice from a storage unit in West Mobile, a haul worth about $614,000. Officers have also made controlled buys at convenience stores that have since been closed and boarded up via court order.
Even though enforcement and awareness have made a difference, Eichold warned parents to continue to educate children about the drug.
“I would ask parents to tell their children about its harmful effects,” he said. “It’s being branded as synthetic marijuana, but it’s really a mixture of dangerous poisonous materials – including chemicals used to kill roaches – that has been blamed for several deaths in Mobile alone.”