LOS ANGELES -- (KTLA) -- The use of synthetic marijuana known as “spice” has created a public health crisis among the homeless population in downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row area, the city Fire Department's medical director said after a multipatient emergency response Monday morning.
Eighteen people were treated after being called to 429 E. Fifth St. in downtown L.A. about 10:30 a.m., according to an alert from the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The response came after a similar incident a few blocks away on Friday, when 18 people were also treated. Fourteen people were transported to hospitals in Monday's incident.
“Obviously, there's a particularly potent batch of some illicit drugs that presumably people here are using,” Dr. Marc Eckstein, the department's medical director, said on scene. “It's obviously becoming a public health crisis.”
The patients treated Monday “appear to have similar signs and symptoms” to those treated on Friday, Eckstein said.
In that incident, the “presumed overdose” was attributed to “spice,” another name for a synthetic marijuana that has highly variable potency and effects, according to Eckstein, who is also a professor of emergency medicine at USC's medical school.
“Patients have altered mental status. Some are combative and some have seizures,” Eckstein said.
Underlying medical conditions and summer heat can combine with the drug's effects to create an emergency situation, he said.
In similar incidents that have occurred over the course of summer, patients who used spice were combative and “wandering” or “staggering through traffic,” he said.
The use of spice seems to be extremely prevalent in the homeless population of Skid Row, he said.
“Obviously, this is creating a significant impact on the Fire Department and EMS resources in the downtown area,” Eckstein said. “These are impacting the community hospitals as well.”
Eckstein said the emergency response was expected to continue as use of the substance goes on.
“Patients' lives are in danger,” he said. “This is a dangerous drug. People will smoke this drug at their own peril, serious risk of significant injury or death.”
A woman who works at a community health clinic near Monday's LAFD response said spice sells for $1 per joint. Clients can use the drug and not test “dirty” while in drug treatment, the woman told KTLA, saying she'd seen the use of spice over the last couple of years.
San Pedro Street was closed amid Monday's response.
Friday's response was centered at 263 E. Fifth St.; paramedics were called there at 1:42 p.m.