Investigators Release Details on Deadly "Spice" Outbreak

Synthetic marijuana goes by many names, but it's all dangerous. And today state and federal authorities made it clear that anyone caught buying or selling it could face a stiff penalty.

“As many have tragically learned, using spice or K2 or some synthetic marijuana product is playing with fire,” said John Walsh, U.S. District Attorney for the state of Colorado.

Walsh said the chemicals used to make the Spice that sent 221 people in Colorado to the hospital last year was made in China. He said it's then sprayed on to a "leafy substance" in the U.S. and sold.

That batch of Spice was reportedly mixed up in Florida and then distributed in nine states across the country, including Colorado. Overdoses were reported in three states during August and September of last year. The vast majority of those were reportedly in Denver and Colorado Springs.

The majority of the overdoses were in males between the ages of 12 and 29, but DEA Special Agent in Charge Barbara Roach said the oldest victim was 70-years-old. She said most of the users were male.

There was one confirmed death. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oats said next to the 15-year-old's bed they found a bottle labeled "Monkey Spice." Lab tests confirmed that's what killed the boy.

The Spice used in the outbreak was allegedly available from retailers such as convenience stores, head shops and gas stations.

The DEA said the company behind the Spice has gone by many names, including of Heart of Asia, Really Cool Stuff, Great American Herbal, and Herbal Megastore.

At least three people allegedly connected to the company are facing charges. Daniel Bernier, John Bowen and James Johnson. They are Bernier and Bowen are accused of importing the chemicals from China, converting them to a consumable good, and packaging them for distribution. James Johnson is accused of selling the products.

Charges are also being brought against retailers who sell Spice to the public. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said agents seized 1,319 packages of Spice worth an estimated $21,000 from one retailer. That retailer could now face a fine of more than $2.6 million.

"In our civil cases, our intent is hitting the defendants where it hurts, their wallets," Suthers said. That means a max penalty of $2,000 per package offered for sale as well as the confiscation of all profits.

“Every other store in Colorado that offers Spice products for sale is on notice. We will not tolerate the sale of this dangerous drug,” Suthers said.

District Attorney George Brauchler says investigators have seen some disturbing actions by people who reportedly took Spice.

“If you’re out there and you see that your family, or friends or loved ones or coworkers has something like that... , beg them not to consume it... The things we have seen that grow out of the use of this include things like people trying to cut their own heads off; people trying to set themselves on fire; people doing harm to themselves and others. Be a friend and tell them not to consume this," Brauchler said.

"Spice is poison, and it is pain and it has nothing whatsoever to do with marijuana. This is a compound that people sell to you because they don’t care about you, and they don’t care how badly you or your loved ones are hurt as long as long as they get the money from the sale," Brauchler said.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Barbara Roach said the government is also watching another "new trend in the Spice world." She said "vaporized Spice" meant to be smoked in an E-Cigarette is gaining popularity. It's reportedly cheap to make and has big profit potential for manufactures and retailers.

Authorities say many of the people who were hospitalized during the "outbreak" last year were people who were trying to beat a drug test by using something that could not be detected.

Spice goes by various names including: Crazy Clown, Dead Man Walking, Funky Monkey, Sexy Monkey, and Black Mamba. The chemicals used in Spice are constantly changing, making it extremely difficult for a regulatory body like the FDA to monitor.

Most of the the packaging says “not for human consumption” but it is intended for just that, said Walsh.

“This is dangerous stuff, folks, and it’s important not to assume that it’s legal because it’s hanging on a rack in a convenience store," said Walsh.