Police announced Monday they have arrested 15 and are searching for 21 others in connection to K2 distribution in the Austin area.
K2 - which is sometimes referred to as "spice," "kush," or "synthetic marijuana" - is a hazardous combination of chemicals that continues to sicken many people. Police acknowledged the misnomer of calling K2 a type of marijuana.
"I think we've done a disservice to the community by calling this drug a synthetic marijuana," said APD Organized Crime Division Cmdr. Troy Officer. "This is no more marijuana than if I put bleach in a martini glass and called it a cocktail."
All 36 people are charged with felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Five of the 15 who were in jail as of Monday afternoon were already in custody, with 10 others arrested in a sting.
"They prey on easy targets looking for an escape from their current situation," added Commander Justin Newsom. "K2 provides a low-cost easy escape from that."
K2 has been on Austin streets for some time, but medical calls connected to adverse reactions date back to February 2012 when three calls were reported. Cases peaked in June 2015 with 406 people falling ill. Around 300 cases were reported in January 2017.
"Their quickest from discharge to readmission from a patient was thirty seconds," said Austin-Travis County EMS Cmdr. Mike Benevides. "They walked out, took a hit, and they were right back inside the hospital again."
K2 users can take on a whole range of states from extremely aggressive to catatonic, depending on what chemical is sprayed on the batch of drugs on any given day.
That makes taking them into custody and keeping them there on charges very difficult. Officers said they are working with state, national and international officials in places like China where the ingredients are not illegal, to put an end to K2 here at home.