GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - In South Mississippi and across the state, medical workers are seeing an increase in people being rushed to the emergency room after smoking spice. The number is now up to 85 in the past two weeks, according to the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
It's a drug marketed as synthetic marijuana, but Dr. Stephen Agans said patients being rushed to the emergency room for spice are experiencing the complete opposite effects of marijuana.
"They can have frank psychosis, screaming, yelling, acting crazy, getting very, very sweaty, getting very anxious. And we also have a lot of them that are pretty much knocked out and cannot be aroused for 12 to 14, 16 hours," Dr. Agans said.
In a 12 hour shift at Memorial Hospital, nine patients who smoked spice were treated. Over the course of a week, 15 such patients showed up. Hancock Medical has seen 16 in the past two weeks.
Hospital officials from Hancock County to Jackson County say the numbers are a dramatic increase and the effects of spice at all hospitals have been way worse than usual.
"We have even had a couple of people who have needed to be incubated, a couple of people who have had to be admitted to the hospital for problems with their kidneys, problems with their muscles," Dr. Agans said. "This latest batch of spice is a lot more dangerous and a lot more toxic than the spice people are used to using in the area."
Some patients admit to smoking spice frequently while others tell doctors it was their fist time. The problem is no one knows what chemicals the makers are putting into the drug and how much.
"We have had one death up in Jackson that they are almost certain is related to spice use," Dr. Agans said. "There are a few people that have essentially become comatose or become vegetables, not really interactive, have to have a breathing tube for the rest of their lives. And a lot of people are getting damage to their organs from taking spice."
Most of the patients who have been brought to Memorial Hospital lately for spice, officials say, have been adults.
Law enforcement officials are working to try and track down the spice dealers. In Jackson, The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics confiscated more than 200,000 packages of spice Thursday they estimate is worth $8 million.