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The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia will run a series of presentations at three local homeless shelters this month about the dangers of synthetic drugs. The first will occur tonight at the D.C. General shelter, but is closed to the media.

The campaign follows the overdose of about a dozen people near D.C.’s Community for Creative Nonviolence shelter this June, many of whom city officials believe had smoked synthetic marijuana.

The next two presentations will take place at Central Union Mission on Aug. 11 and at CCNV on Aug. 19, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office. Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Vincent H. Cohen will likely participate in the CCNV event; other prosecutors will staff the meetings.

“Synthetic drugs are readily available and can cause unpredictable and deadly reactions,” reads a press release from Central Union Mission sent out this afternoon. “To spread the word among homeless people—who often are involved in risky drug use—the Mission welcomes [Douglas] Klein [assistant U.S. Attorney for D.C.] and his educational program. Community awareness is necessary to stem this dangerous trend.” (Deborah Chambers, director of strategic partnerships and community engagement for the Mission, could not immediately be reached for comment.)

Public officials both in- and outside of the District seem increasingly worried about the dangers of synthetic drugs. New York City Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton recently said that people high on synthetic marijuana can behave “totally crazy, with super-human strength and are impervious to pain.” And at a press conference this past Monday after the Major Cities Chiefs Association met for a “National Summit on Violence” in D.C., Thomas Manger—the association’s president—said that almost one-third of 35 cities surveyed reported more incidents of violent crime in which the offender was under the influence of synthetic drugs.

According to David Thompson, communications director for United Medical Center near Washington Highlands, his hospital sees synthetic-drug cases almost every day, usually in the late afternoon or evening, and especially on weekends. Some days, between five and 10 people will be admitted for synthetic-drug activity, Thompson adds; some tend to be combative while others are “almost comatose.” Many times, the patients need to stay at the hospital for five to seven hours, which can drain the hospital staff’s resources and attention from emergency cases, Thompson explains.

“It can get pretty tense, depending on the state of the individual,” Thompson says. “We’ve had instances where it’s taken six to eight people to try and hold somebody down. Somehow [patients on synthetic drugs] just have this newfound energy. Unfortunately, many come back [to the emergency room].”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery