Wisconsin got its latest break of bad health news this month with reports that dozens of people have suffered severe bleeding from using synthetic marijuana — often called K2 or spice — that was laced with rat poison.
Seriously? Smoking rat poison?
While that leaves us shaking our heads, so does the regulatory response to this outbreak and the fact that these “products” are typically sold in convenience stores and gas stations as well as online and marketed as incense “not for consumption.”
A Milwaukee newspaper report this week said that 40 cases of bleeding from rat poison have been confirmed in Milwaukee, Outagamie, Dane and Rock counties since March — and there have been eight new cases in the past two weeks.
In August, Wisconsin reported its first death from synthetic cannabinoids and that involved a 33-year-old woman in Franklin — just up the road from Racine.
Health officials — here and nationally — say its unclear how the rat poison — brodifacoum — got into the fake marijuana and it hasn’t appeared until this year. The drug reduces vitamin K in the body, which helps clot blood, and without it a user can have heavy internal and external bleeding and have bruising or cough up blood, according the news reports.
Part of the attraction for those smoking, vaping or otherwise using fake weed is to avoid failing drug tests by employers, health officials say.
While some synthetic marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin, the enforcement rub apparently comes because the “incense” manufacturers keep tweaking the chemical formulas that aren’t specifically covered and outside that ban.
According to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story, state Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state “had to use ‘creative thinking’ to bring civil charges against (two) stores for false advertising.”
Wisconsin isn’t alone in facing this rat poison-tainted fake marijuana threat. Ten states have reported rat poison-laced fake weed this year and in New Haven, Conn., 71 people overdosed in a park near Yale University from K2 this summer — but the federal DEA said there were no additives in that episode.
Last spring, Illinois faced a similar outbreak with four deaths reportedly linked to synthetic pot laced with rat poison and another 164 people who were sickened.
Illinois had also jumped through the hoops of changing state laws to include new formulas of fake weed as they became evident over several years.
This time, lawmakers there responded in August by passing a “catch-all” bill that made all synthetic cannabinoids illegal in the state if they are not approved by the Federal Drug Administration or if they’re misused.
Wisconsin lawmakers might well want to steal a page from that playbook to give law enforcement a leg up on the ever-changing formula gambit and clear the convenience store shelves of rat poison-laced fakes and fake marijuana itself.
And no, we don’t care if it kills a cottage industry for incense that is being widely misused. Incense lovers can make do with a nice potpourri from the local gift shop.
Since we’re fond of nicknaming legislation with people’s names to enhance the chances of passage, we could just call this one “Doofus’ Law.”