Chicago (AFP) – An outbreak of synthetic marijuana laced with rat poison has killed three and sickened more than 100 in the US Midwest, with officials worried about potentially more cases to come.
Synthetic marijuana is made with chemicals applied to dried plant material, and sold in small foil packages with street names such as Spice and K2. It is also produced in liquid form.
Officials in three Midwestern states are raising the alarm over recent outbreaks of illnesses caused by brodifacoum, a lethal blood thinner used in rat poison, which was in the synthetic pot that victims consumed.
At least some of the poisonous drug was sold in Chicago.
In Illinois, a third death linked to the outbreak was reported Monday. More than 100 other people have been hospitalized with severe symptoms, such as coughing up blood and internal bleeding.
A handful of other people have been sickened in neighboring states — Wisconsin to the north and Indiana to the southeast.
“Each day we’ve seen the number of cases rise,” Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, warned in a statement.
“Synthetic cannabinoids are unsafe. They are not regulated and people don’t know what chemicals may be in them, like rat poison,” Shah said.
The illegal drugs are sold in convenience stores, gas stations and online. Users smoke the drug or inhale it in vaping devices and e-cigarettes.
Police charged three suspects with selling the drug at a Chicago convenience store. Investigators allege the drugs had traces of rat poison.
Fouad Masoud, Jamil Abdelrahman Jad Allah and Adil Khan Mohammed were arrested on April 1 and charged with federal drug offenses.
“While efforts are underway to get the contaminated drugs out of circulation, it’s possible they could re-emerge,” Shah said.