Hundreds of overdoses tied to emerging illegal drug

Channel 2 looks at where they're happening in Houston

HOUSTON – A synthetic drug called Kush is causing hundreds of overdoses just in the last six months.

Hundreds of drug overdoses plaguing some of the city's busiest neighborhoods.

The drug is responsible for the emerging epidemic and what it's costing to keep up. Kush is the street name for the most popular illegal drug in Houston. It's a designer drug made from combinations of synthetic chemicals sprayed on potpourri, then packaged like candy and smoked like marijuana.

Kush isn't new, but there were no numbers to show just how big a problem it is in Houston, until now.

Last summer, Houston EMS Director Dr. David Persse asked his ambulance crews to start keeping records of patients they suspected of or who admitted smoking Kush.

"This is probably our No. 1 illicit drug we're dealing with on the street," Persse said.

Houston ambulances crews responded to more than 900 calls for help connected to the drug. Houston's Kush epidemic runs through the heart of the city.

Fire department maps show most of the 900-plus cases clustered along the Metrorail train line running from downtown to the medical center.

If there is a ground zero for this epidemic, it's at the intersection of Main and Lamar streets, accounting for 121 of those ambulance calls.

Stand there long enough and you'll see drug deals brokered in spite of the heavy traffic and police surveillance. It's where KPRC met Jeff, who told KPRC he never sells Kush, but often uses it. Without prompting he showed how he sprinkles it into a cigar to make a "blunt." He insist users who have a bad reaction bring it on themselves.

"Ain't nobody doing that but the ones that don't eat, don't drink, don't put on fluids in their body, nothing like that," Jeff said. "Everybody smoking same product out here. Ain't nobody dying out here."

Another corner regular known as "Al" said Kush makes him feel good and not bad.

"You want your morning coffee when you wake up. When I wake up, I want my Kush. It's the same thing," Al said.

But in cellphone videos seized by Fort Bend sheriff's narcotics officers, the effects of Kush certainly don't look benign. Persse says it is a very dangerous drug.

"They can get to the point where they start seizing and there are lots of complications from seizures, including death. And so this is, why those episodes are not common the are also not rare and it's something we're dealing with on a regular basis," Persse said.

Dealing with hundreds of Kush overdoses and complications is taxing ambulance crews, who've taken to calling on police for assistance.

Persse said the fire department hasn't done a cost analysis, but KPRC's rough estimate using fire department numbers figures the average expense of a single city ambulance call at about $1,600. Multiplied by 909 calls, that comes to about $1,454,500 in taxpayer's dollars.