A man has been arrested after more than 76 people overdosed in 24 hours after taking synthetic marijuana suspected of being laced with fentanyl – an opioid.
The first overdoses were reported at Connecticut’s New Haven Green, a park close to Yale University, late on Tuesday night. But within three-and-a-half hours, 18 more people had collapsed at the park.
By 10pm on Wednesday, emergency crews had been called to 76 suspected overdoses, all of which occurred close to the park. Of those, 71 have been transported to hospital.
No deaths have been reported, but authorities said two people were in a critical condition.
They are believed to have taken a drug known as K2, which is marketed as being similar to marijuana.
Some people fell unconscious while others were vomiting, nauseated or lethargic.
Police have said they arrested a man found with drugs on him who is believed to be connected to at least some of the overdoses.
The suspect’s name was not immediately released.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration has tested some samples of the drug and found it to be pure K2, but there are more samples to be tested, NBC Connecticut reports.
Local officials and doctors said they suspected many people had taken K2 laced with fentanyl or other opioids.
Connecticut mayor Toni Harp released a statement praising emergency crews for their work as the investigation continues.
“I’m extremely grateful for the timely and effective work of first responders who helped revive, transport, and save these victims,” he said.
New Haven Fire Chief John Alston Jr said during a news conference that the opiate problem is stretching the emergency services to the limit.
“People are self-medicating for several different reasons and every agency – police, fire, medical, hospitals – all are strained at this time. This is a problem that’s not going away,” he said.
The incident comes after more than a dozen people overdosed on synthetic marijuana at the same park on 4 July.
The US has struggled to deal with a surge in drug deaths, which have reached a record high, according to a new report from the Centres for Disease Control.
According to the report’s estimates, opiates such as fentanyl, which can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin, are now deadlier in the US than guns, car crashes and HIV combined.
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