Phoenix firefighters grapple with Spice epidemic

First responders call it the newest epidemic on Phoenix streets.


The drug is cheap, costing about $3 per joint, but the effects said to be as potent as heroine and meth. Everyday, more and more people are overdosing on it, and it is reportedly putting a strain on public resources.

For firefighters in Downtown Phoenix, this type of call has become too common: a person who is passed out on a sidewalk, like a zombie,

"It's an epidemic. I mean, it's nonstop," said firefighter Cody Brooks. "We're running here nonstop, all day. everyday. I know one day, we had 18 calls down there, all Spice-related. That's in one 24-hour shift. Then you talk to the other crews. That's all they're running down there is for Spice."

Spice is quickly becoming the next big epidemic in the Valley. as first responders are responding to more and more calls of Spice overdose. The drug is popular amongst teens, young adults, and the homeless population, because of its low price.

"Typically, what you'll see -- they're just passing it back and forth," said Brooks. "They'll sit there, take a couple hits, and pass it to the next guy. Almost like a domino effect."

Experts say it's a different type of high than opiates, as people reportedly hallucinate while on it, and are incapacitated but slightly conscious.

Narcan, a medication used by first responders to block the effects of some drugs, doesn't work on Spice, and most Spice overdose patients get sent to the hospital. Spice has only been a popular drug here in the U.S. in the last decade, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) division in Phoenix is going after big-time manufacturers.

"People like to say its synthetic marijuana, but there's nothing close to what Spice does, compared to marijuana," said the DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. "It looks like marijuana. The leaves that they put these on are green leaves that look like marijuana. It looks like cigarettes, so people start assuming its safe like a marijuana product, but its further from the truth. Spice really has no relation whatsoever to mairjuana. There's this idea among kids that its not as harmful as smoking crack or shooting heroin."

It's relatively easy to make, as the main ingredient is a liquid spray that's made up of hundreds of evolving chemicals. That spray can be ordered online, and most of it is shipped to the U.S. from China, disguised as an everyday product, like shampoo. That spray is then applied on damiana leaves, which is a natural herb that's legal and easily available.

It's then laid out to dry, and then packaged.

"You can take a few ounces of the actual of the liquid chemical, and spray it on over 50 pounds of leaves, and you've made 50 pounds of spice," said Coleman.

Since it can easily fly under the radar, agents are cautioning parents to keep an eye on what their teens are ordering.

"Your kid can get on a smartphone and order a product from China, and have several ounces of spice delivered to their doorstep in four to five days for a couple hundred bucks," said Coleman.

As the DEA goes after the suppliers, first responders continue to battle its hold on the population. The Governor has already declared a public health emergency over the opiate crisis.

More than two dozen states, Including Arizona, are suing drug manufacturers over the opioid crisis. The lawsuits accuse the drugmakers of using deceptive marketing, downplaying the risk of addiction and overstating the benefit for chronic pain

Some of the suits claim the pharmaceutical companies knew the drugs were highly addictive when they marketed them. One of the companies, Purdue Pharma, denies the accusations, and says it shares concerns about the opioid crisis.