Why We Run: To Boost Mental Health, Raise Awareness, & Combat Stigmas

Exercise is a great way for people to take mental health improvement into their own hands. Don’t get us wrong: working out is not a cure-all for mental illness and is not a definitive treatment option. But it allows people who suffer from mental health disorders to be proactive, to take control of a potentially dangerous situation. Perhaps most importantly, it sets into motion chemicals in the brain that induce feelings of euphoria which combat feelings of despair.

The notion that exercise is a constructive way to counterbalance feelings of, for example, depression or anxiety is rooted in evidence-based science. Studies have been published that show a relationship between increased physical activity and low rates of major depressive disorder.

One such recent study was co-authored by Karmel W. Choi, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, director of the Mass. General Hospital Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit and a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“On average, doing more physical activity appears to protect against developing depression,” Dr. Choi said in a statement. “Any activity appears to be better than none; our rough calculations suggest that replacing sitting with 15 minutes of a heart-pumping activity like running, or with an hour of moderately vigorous activity, is enough to produce the average increase in accelerometer data that was linked to a lower depression risk.”

Related: Save the Date: Our 5th Annual Frozen Yogurt 5K is on August 25

According to Yale scientist Adam Mourad Chekroud, PhD, exercise is a key opportunity for individuals to develop protective factors against depression, maybe even more so than prescription medications. In fact, he says “Antidepressants are not universally effective, and many patients undergo a trial-and-error process to find the right regimen. Psychological therapies are about equally effective and can be expensive and difficult to access.”

A big part of this is the so-called runner’s high. This sensation is caused by a rush of pleasure-causing endorphins in the brain, in addition to endocannabinoids, a chemical that acts like naturally synthesized THC (the main chemical component in marijuana).

Cardio workouts can also generate new brain cells and improve cognitive performance, which has been linked to low rates of Alzheimer’s. It also has the added benefit of providing an outlet for stress, a time for self-reflection, and, especially on sunny days, an opportunity for your body to produce Vitamin D.

For these reasons and more, Gándara has hosted a 5K road race in Northampton for the past four years. This year, on August 25, will be our 5th annual Frozen Yogurt 5K.

We run to not only give participants the chance to experience all the health benefits that accompany running, but also to raise awareness around mental illness, substance use disorders, their stigmas, and the various services and treatments available to those in need.

Register today! Kids 12 and under run for free, and all runners—and walkers—get a free GoBerry Frozen Yogurt. Sign up by August 14 and you’ll be receive a free t-shirt. Registration on race day will be available beginning at 8:00 a.m. Credit and debit cards will be accepted. The staging area is on the Courthouse Lawn across from the Calvin Theater. For GPS purposes please use 19 King Street Northampton, MA.

Leashed pets are also welcome to run for free.

Our 5K is officially timed by RaceWire. Medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each of the following categories: Male, Female, 12 and under and 50 and over.

For any questions regarding the event—or for those interested in having their business sponsor this year’s race­—please contact Lisa Brecher at 413-296-5256 or lbrecher@gandaracenter.org.

By |January 31st, 2019|Events, News, Science|Comments Off on Why We Run: To Boost Mental Health, Raise Awareness, & Combat Stigmas

De-escalation & Crisis Management Training: How to Defuse the Situation

Mark Huntington likes to begin training sessions by explaining why everyone calls him Mark H. It’s really quite simple. When he started at Gándara, there were two other Marks and so as a point of clarification, he adopted the name Mark H and it stuck. He tells this story because it helps create a connection with him and his trainees, a mutual understanding. They don’t feel like they’re sitting through a lecture. Connection is an important part of Mark H.’s de-escalation and crisis management training sessions, one of which he held on Friday, January 4. Empathy is a necessity.

De-escalation prevents confrontational situations from becoming aggressive and violent. “It’s not about trying to fix the situation,” said Mark H., “It’s about trying to survive the situation.” What he means is sometimes when we put a lot of energy into trying to fix a situation, that energy can increase the tension between you and the other person. He added: our actions and attitudes have an impact on the actions and attitudes of others. Sometimes your approach can be a part of the problem.

verbal agitation scale

Mark H. has of 25 years of experience in the field. Much of that has been focused on de-escalation. From his time working with inner-city gang youths to being yelled at by Green Berets, State Police, and corrections officers (to name just a few), Mark H. has found that de-escalation is as much about science as it is about intuition. People who suffer trauma, for example, have difficulty with logic and coping because that part of their brain—the part that triggers the fight, flight, freeze, submit, or cry for help reflex—has been deeply affected.

“Be what you want to see,” said Mark H. If you want someone to calm down, be calm; if you want them to listen, be a listener. It’s what he calls an integrated exercise, and he uses a scale to assess and respond to different types of verbal agitation.

At the low end of the scale, you might encounter someone who’s verbally spontaneous, intermittently silent, or talking to his/herself. In that instance, you should communicate your concern and express empathy. You might have someone who’s inquisitive, suspicious, or doubting (e.g., “Why would they do that? What’s their problem? Are they after me?”). Instead of simply communicating concern, try to provide them with answers to their questions while you acknowledge their feelings. At the high end of the scale, if the person is challenging or verbally threatening, it’s best to disengage and to seek safety and/or support from fellow staff members; sometimes a co-worker brings a different attitude or perspective to the situation that helps defuse it.

If such a situation arises at the workplace, the most important thing to do is to remain calm. You need to be able to think rationally, to analyze the situation and determine best approaches. Always, too, be empathetic to the person. You never know what they’ve been through and how it’s affected them.

By |January 7th, 2019|Events, People, Science|Comments Off on De-escalation & Crisis Management Training: How to Defuse the Situation

3 Reasons You Should Donate to Aventura!, our Western Mass Summer Camp Program [Infographic]

The testimonials we’ve heard from parents and kids who spent time at our Western Mass summer camp program are heartwarming. There are so many benefits to supporting an experience like this. It’s all about providing our local youth with an opportunity to grow in different ways. Kids can meet new friends, make new memories, and enjoy a level of self-confidence and self-esteem they may not usually get to at home. Since 2016, we’ve had the privilege to send almost 145 kids to camp.

Last year, we gave camp scholarships to 40 kids. This year with your help, we think we can do better.  Here are 3 big reasons you should donate to our Aventura! Summer Camp Scholarship program:

3 reasons to donate

By |December 19th, 2018|Events|Comments Off on 3 Reasons You Should Donate to Aventura!, our Western Mass Summer Camp Program [Infographic]

Community Responds to Blood Drive/Job Fair on December 11

Katherine and Conor Bevan (top left), had plenty of motivation to give donate blood at our Blood Drive/Job Fair we held on December 11 in conjunction with the American Red Cross: 20 months ago she needed an emergency blood transfusion while giving birth. “I lost 90 percent of my blood,” she said. “I would have died if there wasn’t enough blood available. This is our way of giving back.”

Abiezer Colon (top right), a Family Partner at Gándara Center, said he donated blood because “it’s the right thing to do. It feels good to help others.”

The Blood Drive was held in response to a critical blood shortage in the U.S. since this past summer because of a rise in demand. Participants were also able to learn about career opportunities at our agency during our Job Fair.

The event included a great showing by Gándara Center employees. Thanks to everyone who headed over to our offices at 80 Commercial Street in Holyoke for this important initiative. We met our goal and collected 19 pints of blood!

By |December 13th, 2018|Events, News, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Community Responds to Blood Drive/Job Fair on December 11

Federal Policy & Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 Could Negatively Affect the At-Risk LGBTQI+ Community

The LGBTQI+ community encounters many stigmas every day that the heterosexual community does not. Harassment, discrimination, violence, and other stressors have a profound effect on the health and wellness of LGBTQI+ individuals. As a result, they tend to have higher rates of substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health issues. For this reason it’s important we examine two policy initiatives that will increase the risk of developing SUDs and mental illness in the LGBTQI+ community: a national memorandum on the classification of a person’s sex, and Massachusetts ballot question 3.

Recently the New York Times reported on a memo by the federal Department of Health and Human Services which stated a proposal to define a person’s gender as either male or female “based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth… The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

This system of labeling based on anatomy is flawed and dangerous. Not only does it go against widespread medical understanding of biology and gender identity, failing to take into account people born with sexual anatomy variations, it marks civil rights breach for a population who, under the Obama administration, enjoyed recognition in public spaces like schools or hospitals. Indeed, part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) protects trans people from discrimination by health programs or organizations that receive federal funding.

Which brings us to Massachusetts.

On November’s ballot, the residents will vote on three ballot questions. Question 3 considers the 2016 state law granting LGBTQI+ individuals the right to use public restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, not, as the Trump administration is now attempting, on their anatomy. A yes vote would keep the law in place, prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. A no vote would repeal it.

Fears have been stoked by messaging surrounding question 3. Those in support of no vote cite the possibility of someone using the law as a means of gaining entry into bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex for malicious purposes. But the Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) came out in support of a yes vote on question 3, saying there’s no statistical data to support this baseless reasoning.

“The reality is that there is no credible evidence that there is any threat to public safety by protecting transgender persons from discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement,” said the ABH. “ABH urges our members to reject bigotry and discrimination by voting Yes on 3.”

Related: Transgender Governor Candidate Helps Focus Attention on LGBTQI+ Substance Use & Mental Health

Both policies, federal and state, have major implications for the LGBTQI+ population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma and fear of discrimination can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, SUDs, and thoughts of suicide; LGBTQI+ are nearly 3-times more likely to experience a mental illness.

To cope, many turn to substances and ultimately develop a disorder. Between 20% and 30% of LGBTQI+ people misuse substances, compared to approximately 9% of the general population.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that sexual minorities—the LGBTQI+ population—are “more likely to use illicit drugs in the past year, to be current cigarette smokers, and to be current alcohol drinkers compared with their sexual majority counterparts… more likely than sexual majority adults to have substance use disorders in the past year, including disorders related to their use of alcohol, illicit drugs, marijuana, or misuse of pain relievers… more likely than their sexual majority counterparts to need substance use treatment.”

SUDs and mental health issues are so rampant in this community that the American Psychological Association developed guidelines to specifically assist “transgender and gender nonconforming” people with treatment services.

It’s important for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, to understand the consequences of the Department of Health and Human Services’ policy attempts, and the misrepresentations of question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot. Concerns of the opposition are incited by fear and a lack of understanding. If we as a society truly want to combat the opioid crisis, overall substance use, and mental health stigmas, we need to fully acknowledge that the LGBTQI+ community is severely at risk and in need of support.

The Gándara Center fully recognizes the rights and needs of the LGBTQI+ community. Our youth residential programs have the capacity to, and are operated by staff trained to, engage and support this population.

We are dedicated to fighting stigma and supporting the LGBTQI+ population mentally, physically, and emotionally. We hope you are too.

Featured image via Creative Commons/ Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
By |October 30th, 2018|Events, News, Politics|Comments Off on Federal Policy & Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 Could Negatively Affect the At-Risk LGBTQI+ Community

What Is Narcan, How Do I Use It, and Where Can I Get It?

There are indicators that the opioid crisis in Massachusetts is beginning to wane. The latest available data from the Mass. Department of Public Health shows that after reaching a peak of 2,154 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016, the state had 2,069 in 2017. By no means does this mean the Commonwealth has solved one of the most pressing issues of our time. But it does mean that some methods to combat the crisis may be taking hold. Public education and community awareness around opioids are critical to saving lives. Just as important is the proper knowledge and use of Narcan. What is Narcan? Naloxone. You may have seen it in the news:  Naloxone, is commonly referred to as its brand-name Narcan, is an antidote that reverses the symptoms of overdose. It has been credited with saving countless lives.

We at the Gándara Center are committed to ensuring everyone has access to, and knows how to administer, naloxone. There are no restrictions on how to get your hands on some; it’s as easy as walking into pharmacy and simply asking. We firmly believe naloxone should be in every home and every business, as universal as keeping and maintaining a fire extinguisher.

Let’s begin by getting down to the basics.

What is Naloxone (aka Narcan)?

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. The compounds of the drug block the opioid from working. An opioid-related overdose will cause the victim’s breathing to slow down or stop. Once administered, naloxone reverses that process. Keep in mind, it’s not effective in treating overdoses of benzodiazepines, barbiturates, clonidine, GHB, or ketamine.

How Do I Use Naloxone?

There are multiple ways to administer naloxone. It can be ingested intramuscularly (a shot in a muscle), intravenously (a drip in a vein), and intranasally (a spray in the nose).  Nasal sprays are the preferred method since they’re easier to carry and quicker to use—intramuscular and intravenous methods require users to fill the proper dosage and find the correct place to inject. Nasal sprays remove those extra steps and allow people to respond quickly to overdose victims in a time-sensitive situation.

Related: Gándara Center Partners with Tapestry to Provide Community Narcan Trainings

Is Naloxone Dangerous?

One of the beauties of naloxone is it’s free of side effects and is perfectly safe to have around. If someone not exhibiting overdose symptoms ingested naloxone, nothing would happen. For people who do exhibit overdose symptoms, naloxone is still safe. You can’t take too much of it and you can’t abuse it. In fact, the victim may require more than one dose if he or she is unresponsive. Fentanyl, for example, is a substance estimated to be between 25–50 times stronger than heroin, and 50–100 times stronger than morphine. As such, if someone is overdosing on a drug potent as fentanyl, multiple doses of naloxone may be required.

Where Can I Get Naloxone?

In Massachusetts, anyone with health insurance or MassHealth can obtain naloxone from your preferred pharmacy. Be sure to check with your provider about co-pays, as these will vary from plan to plan, and bring your insurance card with you.

Want to Learn More?

We’re partnering up with Tapestry Health to bring offer community Narcan training sessions throughout the Pioneer Valley, including two Spanish-speaking trainings in Holyoke and Springfield. Here, you will learn how to properly inject naloxone, how to conduct rescue breathing on overdose victims to maintain respiratory stability, and everyone will take home a dose of Narcan to carry on them at all times if desired.

We hope to see you there:

trainings narcan

Featured image via Image via James Heilman, MD (CC BY-SA 4.0)
By |October 18th, 2018|Events, News, Science|Comments Off on What Is Narcan, How Do I Use It, and Where Can I Get It?

4 Tips for Enjoying Halloween Sober [Infographic]

Halloween can be a difficult time for individuals in, or seeking, recovery from substance use. Regardless of which night it falls on, Halloween is often viewed as excuse for people to party and engage in mischief making. For people who want to enjoy an evening of scary fun, this makes it extremely difficult to abstain from those kind of antics. As avid lovers of this ghoulish holiday, we want to make sure you can enjoy it to the utmost. There doesn’t have to be temptation, and you don’t have to white-knuckle your way through the night. We want to support you and your recovery journey. Here are 4 tips for enjoying Halloween sober.

 

sober-halloween-infographic

By |October 29th, 2018|Events|Comments Off on 4 Tips for Enjoying Halloween Sober [Infographic]

4 Reasons to Start Your Career with Gándara [We’re Hiring!]

The Gándara Center is growing. Fast. In response to the opioid crisis and the increased need for substance use and mental health treatments, our facilities are staffing up. Everyone has been touched in some way by the crisis, so we’re boosting all our efforts to improve the health and safety of our community members and loved ones. Can you empathize and organize? Are you willing to make a lasting positive impact? Can you engage and connect with administrators and community leaders alike? We’re hiring a part-time Marketing and Development Assistant.

If you’re looking for a nonprofit job in addiction and mental health treatment, look no further. Gándara is looking to fill a flexible, part-time position that will have a hand in almost every aspect of our services. We have over 800 employees in facilities across Massachusetts, and with your help we’ll be able to serve every single one of their clients, while, on the administrative end, we’ll be able to connect with foundations, government, and the community at large.

Here are 4 reasons to start your career with Gándara:

1. You’ll Tell Meaningful Stories

The clients we serve all have powerful testimonials about their history with substances use disorder, mental health disorder, and their own pathways to recovery. These people and their stories often inspire others to seek treatment as well. In this position you will play an important role in conveying these stories over social media platforms, email newsletters, blog posts, and in the community. Using communications best practices and marketing analytics, you’ll help us determine the best ways to get our clients’ messages out to those who need them the most.

2. You’ll Help Plan and Participate in Community Events

Gándara prides itself on not only serving the community, but being an active part of it. You’ll actively participate in our pillar events—such as our annual Frozen Yogurt 5K fundraiser, ArtSong reception to provide artistic outlets for youths, and Holyoke Recovery Day to celebrate the recovery efforts of our clients and individuals seeking treatment. We’ll give you responsibilities for helping plan and execute the logistics that make these events possible, and rely on your creative input to help us put together events in response incidents taking place in the moment, like our campaign to support the Puerto Rican community affected by Hurricane Maria.

3. You’ll Have Flexibility

This is an entry-level, part-time position. That means our organization is committed to providing the right candidate an opportunity to expand their resume, take on leadership roles, learn to be proactive instead of reactive, and gain an understanding of how nonprofits operate. We also realize that you may have another job. Or that you may be pursuing an education. Or that you have family obligations. We understand that life is busy and you may be juggling a number of priorities. This position is designed to accommodate your life outside the workplace without sacrificing the chance to gain professional experience. This job is intended to support our substance use and mental health programs, our outreach efforts, and your potential to grow with us.

4. You’ll Give Back to Under-served Populations

Statistically, in terms of occupation, income level, and ethnicity, the Latinx and African-American communities are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders. We work directly with, and directly on behalf of, these populations and everyone else seeking treatment. As the marketing and development assistant, your work planning events, drafting communication, engaging on social media, and joining communities will make an immediate and direct impression on the people who need it most.

We look forward to evaluating candidates for this job and welcoming someone to our growing team. Learn more about the job description and submit your application today.

—-

The Gándara Center provides residential, mental health, substance abuse and preventive services for children, adults and families across the Pioneer Valley and eastern parts of Massachusetts. Founded in the Latinx community, we value cultural diversity and strive to provide culturally competent, innovative services to a diverse community.

The Mission of the Gándara Center is to promote the well-being of Latinxs, African-Americans and other culturally diverse populations, through innovative, culturally competent behavioral health, prevention and educational services.

By |October 2nd, 2018|Events, Gandara in the News, News|Comments Off on 4 Reasons to Start Your Career with Gándara [We’re Hiring!]

Sights and Stories From the Recovery Day Rally Celebration in Boston

The energy was electrifying.

Cheers roared through the building as speaker after speaker approached the podium, introduced themselves, their stories, their addictions, and their recovery efforts, and connected with a crowd that overflowed out into the summer heat. Enthusiastic shouts of encouragement echoed throughout the outdoor marketplace. Even among strangers, you could feel the strong sense of community. It was palpable.

Faneuil Hall in Boston added another memorable celebration to its long history of significant events. On Monday, September 17, the Recovery Day March and Celebration took place. Organized by the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR), the event brought together numerous individuals who have been touched in some way by substance use disorders, as well as the organizations who have helped these people on their pathways to recovery. The Gándara Center was well represented by groups from Hope for Holyoke and Stairway to Recovery.

Things kicked off at Boston City Hall at 9 a.m. People assembled. Father Joe White, himself in long term recovery, led everyone in a prayer.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey swung by. She mentioned as chief lawyer for the state, it’s her responsibility to sue people, not the least of which includes Purdue Pharma. Healey is suing the pharmaceutical company for allegedly misleading the public on the powerful side effects and addictive nature of OxyContin, a prescription medication that’s fueled the opioid crisis.

“Thank you,” Healey told attendees. “Thank you for your courage, and coming forward, and sharing your stories with the world.”

Healey had to leave to meet with Chris Herren, the community activist, motivational speaker, and former Boston Celtic from Fall River who’s in recovery. But before she left, she helped hype the crowd.

It wasn’t long until City Hall Plaza erupted with: “Join the voices for recovery! This is what recovery looks like! We do recover! Recovery is possible! When I shine, you shine, we all shine together!”

The march then wove through Court and Congress streets, chanting in unison, before entering Faneuil Hall. The building quickly reached capacity.

Maryanne Frangules, executive director of MOAR, and Marylou Sudders, secretary of Health and Human Services, helped keep the intensity up. Frangules, in recovery since 1981, rattled off the names of all the organizations present. Sudders, who lost her mother from complications due to addiction and mental illness, similarly touted everyone county by county. The tone of the speakers never faltered.

Once Frangules and Sudders vacated the stage, state lawmakers explained the importance of recent legislation that passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously. They then brought up representatives from the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) who also serve as recovery coaches.

A woman named Julia has been in recovery since September 4, 2017. Julia’s addiction took hold when she was prescribed medication for a spinal infection. Like many others who joined her, she found reprieve in her recovery coach who helped find her housing and meals, supported her clean living, and inspired her to do the same. She intends to become a recovery coach in her own right, and impart her wisdom and life experiences on those who need it.

“I find it not necessary to use drugs and alcohol ever again,” she said to overwhelming. “I live life on life’s terms.”

Shedding light on a population not outwardly associated with substance use and mental health disorders, a group of deaf recovery coaches likewise received a resounding ovation. Massachusetts is a national leader when it comes to providing substance use treatment to the deaf and hard of hearing community; in fact, Massachusetts is the first state to develop deaf recovery coach trainings. To date, over 20 deaf recovery coaches have been trained across the Commonwealth.

A coach named Katie has been in recovery since 2001. She sees coaching not only as a way to connect with an individuals in need, but as a way to advocate in communities and across regions. That she, Julia, and their peers have gone through the many similar challenges facing their clients today is an invaluable asset to their work. Many were, and some are, without transportation, jobs, homes, and the comforts of family. “We have the ability to give a voice to the voiceless,” she said. “The lived experience speaks volumes.”

You are the Face of Recovery

“I’m Marty and I’m an alcoholic.”

The speaking part of the program was capped by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Walsh is an alcoholic in recovery and has been a vocal proponent of increased access to treatment services, from improving the city’s treatment infrastructure to connecting with people on an emotional level.

Walsh aims to build a bridge to Long Island in Boston Harbor, which once was home to a residential treatment facility, and he continues to speak directly to his constituents. He mentioned one young lady, with whom he “talked about that sense of not being worthy” which he remembers as a major hurdle to overcome as part of his own journey to recovery. He didn’t see her again after that, thought she disappeared. But on one of the annual recovery day celebrations he mandated as part of his community outreach when he was a state representative, she showed up. She was unrecognizable. She was six-months sober.

He urged people to reach out. Ask how they’re doing. This can make a world of difference. A lot of people ask him about the intersection of Melnea Cass Blvd. and Massachusetts Ave., which has earned the dubious nickname “the methadone mile” because of the dense concentration of substance users who cluster around a nearby methadone clinic.

“Let them know where your life was, where your life is, and where your life is headed,” he suggested. “You are the face of addiction, you are the face of recovery.” After a lunch break, the event broke up into separate agendas. In one area of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, artists held therapeutic workshops. Back on stage, live performances like interpretative dance and spoken word poetry took place. The incredible turnout for the various events is a testament to the strength of those in recovery and the compassion of those willing to lend a helping hand.

Every September, the Gándara Center participates in National Recovery Month, which is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This longstanding observance is designed to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders, celebrate people in recovery, and laud the contributions of treatment and service providers.

By |September 18th, 2018|Events, Politics|Comments Off on Sights and Stories From the Recovery Day Rally Celebration in Boston

Synthetic Substances: What is K2 & Why is it Dangerous?

Beginning Tuesday afternoon, people in New Haven, Conn. began exhibiting overdose symptoms  in large numbers. By Wednesday at least 70 people overdosed. By Friday, that number reached almost 90. The cause was the inhalation of a substance known as ‘K2,’ or ‘Spice,’ which may have also been laced with the powerful opioid fentanyl. So what is K2 and why is it dangerous?

What is K2?

K2 is a strain of synthetic marijuana that can be bought and sold at convenience stores, depending on location. Though synthetic marijuana varies from producer to producer, it is essentially dried leaves sprayed with chemicals that affect cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

According to Dr. Kathryn Hawk, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, synthetic marijuana like K2 are often “made in these kind of clandestine laboratories that are predominantly overseas… But they don’t represent, in any way shape or form, something that is kind of diverted from a pharmaceutical company or anything along those lines.”

Why is K2 Dangerous?

What is scary about synthetic marijuana is that nobody really knows what it is produced with. It can be laced with other, sometimes more powerful substances like fentanyl, which was suspected in the New Haven case. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid so powerful it is estimated to be between 25-50 times stronger than heroin, and 50-100 times stronger than morphine.

People tend to think that because a substance like K2 is referred to as “synthetic marijuana,” it has the same effects as actual marijuana but that is not true. As noted by the Drug Policy Alliance, negative side effects of synthetic marijuana can include nausea and vomiting, seizures, aggression and agitation, respiratory failure, and loss of consciousness.

Emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers peaked in the early 2010s, but the accessibility of synthetic marijuana makes it a continuous issue. In some cases, users have died of complications.

Is K2 legal?

Generally, K2 and other synthetic marijuana strains are illegal. In 2012, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, labeling multiple types of the substance a Schedule I drug. Nearly every single state has its own laws, too, though they vary in scope. Synthetic marijuana manufacturers have found ways to circumvent these laws by slightly altering the chemical formulas found in their synthetic products.

In Massachusetts, the law against synthetic drugs is punishable by a $200 fine, six-month prison sentence, or both.

The Massachusetts law states:

“No person shall intentionally smell or inhale the fumes of any substance having the property of releasing toxic vapors, for the purpose of causing a condition of intoxication, euphoria, excitement, exhilaration, stupefaction, or dulled senses or nervous system, nor possess, buy or sell any such substance for the purpose of violating or aiding another to violate this section.”

Some states have also proposed strengthening the laws they already have on the books; for some, the crime outweighs the punishment.

Treatment

Because synthetic marijuana does not contain THC, the cannabinoid agent active in marijuana, K2 does not show up in toxicology results. This makeS it difficult for healthcare providers and emergency response teams to determine patterns for who uses them and which ones they use.

In New Haven, public health officials administered the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, commonly known as narcan. According to the Washington Post, at least 50 doses were given out. Some did not initially respond to the narcan and had to be given higher concentrations at the hospital.

Some people who experienced overdose symptoms were treated only to return to the New Haven Green, take more of the K2, and need narcan treatment again.

Luckily, none of the New Haven victims died.

Image via Public Domain/ Courtesy of the DEA
By |August 17th, 2018|Events, News|Comments Off on Synthetic Substances: What is K2 & Why is it Dangerous?