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Pennsylvanians Warned by Wolf Administration of K2 Synthetic Marijuana Overdose Cluster in Lancaster County

Harrisburg, PA - Wolf administration officials today warned residents and emergency responders that a recent spike of overdoses from a synthetic marijuana known as K2 in Lancaster County has the potential to spread to other areas of the state.

“Synthetic marijuana is a man-made mind-altering chemical, that isn’t marijuana at all but made to mirror its effects,” Acting Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith said. “It can have a much more powerful effect on the brain than chemicals found in the marijuana plant. The chemicals in them are often unknown, dangerous and deadly.”

Lancaster County emergency rooms have seen more than 125 overdoses attributed to K2 in the past few days.

“Synthetic drugs like K2 make treating overdoses especially difficult because we don’t know what chemicals or other drugs were used to make them,” Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine said. “The life-saving drug naloxone is not effective in reversing overdoses from K2 or other synthetic drugs. First responders and emergency rooms across the state are being notified of these overdoses and what to look for in their communities.”

Synthetic marijuana can produce health effects such as:

  • Altered awareness of surroundings
  • Delusional or disordered thinking
  • Violent behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations and psychotic episodes
  • Suicidal thoughts

Health care providers with questions should consult with their poison center about the management of their patients. Residents can call 1-800-222-1222, the Poison help line, to speak with the experts at their local poison center about synthetic marijuana.

In 2016, more than 4,800 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose, a 37 percent increase over the 2015 count. Heroin and opioid overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in Pennsylvania.

Some of Governor Tom Wolf’s additional initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic include:

  • Strengthening the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) so that doctors are required and able to check the system each time they prescribe opioids and/or benzodiazepines;
  • Forming new prescribing guidelines to help doctors who provide opioid prescriptions to their patients make the best clinical decisions;
  • Creating the warm handoff guideline to facilitate referrals from the emergency department to substance use treatment;
  • Establishing a new law limiting the amount of opioids that can be prescribed to patients discharged from emergency rooms and to minors to seven days; and
  • Designating 45 Centers of Excellence, central hubs that provide navigators to assist those with opioid use disorders with behavioral and physical health care, along with medication-assisted treatment, as needed.

If you or someone you know is suffering from the disease of addiction, call 1-800-662-HELP or visit for treatment options.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Carol Gifford, DDAP, 717-547-3314

                               April Hutcheson, DOH, 717-787-1783


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