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Synthetic drug use is an issue throughout North Texas, but it is the most visible in downtown Dallas. At the end of last year, paramedics responded to dozens of overdoses, and so far this year, Dallas Police have made more than 64 K-2 street arrests, mostly in the small plazas that dot downtown and in the largely empty area behind City Hall. Also this year, police arrested more than 200 so-called “aggressive panhandlers” in Downtown as part of a related enforcement action. K-2 is popular in Dallas’ homeless community because of its availability and price. The smokable synthetic cannabinoid can be purchased in joint form or in a pack for around $5.

KRLD Investigative Series: Synthetic Drugs:

K-2 became an issue in the now closed Tent City under I-45 near downtown Dallas. Reverend Jonathan Grace with City Square says some of the violence associated with Tent City can be traced back to K-2 use. He also says one of the reasons why Tent City grew so large geographically was because people kept moving south along I-45, looking to get away from some the K-2 users who lived at the northern end of the encampment.

“With K-2. there’s so much violence and hyperactivity,” says Grace. “A lot of people who didn’t want the drama, the danger, moved to safer sections.”

As people in Tent City were cleared out, the drug problem has spread to the other, smaller camps that have sprung up near Fair Park and in The Cedars neighborhood.

“I don’t think people on the street are picking this out because they prefer this,” says Jack Feinberg, VP and Clinical Director with Phoenix House recovery center. “They are probably doing K-2 because it’s just something to help them get to oblivion and forget about their circumstance.”

Feinberg says he first became aware of K-2 about eight years ago when a couple of teenagers participating in a group therapy session went out for a break and came back looking very different. One of the teens was clearly high, Feinberg says. The other was very ill. He says the teens had both smoked K-2 from the same packet.

“Even using the same thing, people can react very differently,” says Feinberg says, who adds that the K-2 issue is made even more complicated because there are so many kinds of K-2 and new ones almost every day.

Last session, the Texas Legislature updated the statutes outlawing K-2 to include around 1,000 possible chemical combinations that are being used to make the drug. Extensive analysis is needed in order to determine whether the drugs seized by officers during traffic stops or purchased during undercover operations are in fact “illegal.” The exhaustive tests cannot be done in the field, so officers have to take the packets of suspected K-2 back to the lab, and then return to the street in order to make an arrest.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown has focused his sights on K-2 street dealers, along with other possible suppliers, including smoke shops or vape shops, also called ‘head shops’. He is asking the Dallas City Council to change smoke shops’ classification to “convenience store.” In Dallas, convenience stores are required to have surveillance cameras and safes. Requiring smoke shops to have the same security measures in place opens the doors for officers to do regular inspections. The City Attorney’s office is working on the ordinance, which is several months away from a council vote.

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