Social services providers in St. Louis are working to combat a spike in the number of people overdosing on a synthetic marijuana known as K2.
Since Monday, the St. Louis Fire Department had treated at least 100 people suffering the effects of the drug. Many of the victims were clustered around downtown homeless shelters and service providers.
In a statement released Friday, the St. Patrick Center urged people not to give money to panhandlers. Individuals who are experiencing chronic homelessness often use the spare change they collect to support bad habits like substance abuse, the statement said. People are encouraged to instead donate to the center or another social service agency.
Meredith Throop, the medical director of Places for People, said the agency began coming up with ways to tell their clients about the dangers of the drug in February, when a similar rash of overdoses occurred. Places for People works with clients who have mental illness.
"Scare tactics just don't work," she said. "We really need to take into consideration the stage of change they may be in pertaining to their substance abuse."
Throop said the agency's outreach teams and social workers focused on the misinformation about K2.
"There is so much misinformation that it is benign in some way, misinformation that it is actually safer that marijuana, and the packaging is incredibly deceptive," she said.
The outreach appears to have worked — Throop said none of the 100 recent K2 cases were clients of Places for People.
The overdose outbreak comes as St. Louis attempts to shut down the New Life Evangelistic Center. Attorneys sent the shelter a cease-and-desist order on Wednesday, giving its founder Larry Rice 30 days to apply for a new occupancy permit, file an administrative appeal with the city, or vacate its building at 1411 Locust. The city said the two things are not connected.
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