PEORIA — A 37-year-old Stark County woman is the state’s fourth fatality in an epidemic of massive bleeding in synthetic cannabis users.
The woman was pronounced brain dead at 9:20 a.m. Sunday at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, according to Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood. Toxicology results likely won’t be available for up to three weeks, Harwood said Tuesday.
Synthetic cannabis users started coming into hospitals around the state with uncontrolled bleeding early in March. The Illinois Department of Public Health determined the victims had used synthetic cannabis laced with brodifacoum, a powerful anticoagulant used in rat poison. The first death was a Chicago-area man in his 20s, the second was a 22-year old Peoria man who died March 29, and the third was Anthony Phillips, a 46-year-old Pekin resident, who died April 9. The medical examiner’s preliminary report said Phillips died of intracranial bleeding.
Three people in Tazewell County have been arrested for allegedly selling synthetic cannabis, including Pekin resident Lonnie K. Smith, 36, who is charged with a drug induced homicide for selling the deadly drug to Phillips. More than 3,500 packets of synthetic cannabis were seized in the arrests.
As of 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, 153 cases of massive bleeding had been reported in the state. The Peoria area is the center of the epidemic — Tazewell County reported 48 cases, Peoria County reported 35, Woodford County reported six, and Stark County reported one.
“Like so many other drugs, synthetic cannabinoids are addictive and people are not able to give them up,” said DPH Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah. “Alternatively, they think that it won’t happen to them because they know their dealer or trust wherever they purchased the drugs. If you know someone who uses synthetic cannabinoids, tell them these are deadly products and try to help them get treatment.”
Central Illinois residents fighting withdrawal and addiction can call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery hotline at (800) 522-3784. People can also come to the center 24 hours a day. It’s located on the UnityPoint Health-Proctor campus in Peoria.
Individuals sickened by the tainted synthetic drugs have reported coughing up blood, blood in the urine, severe bloody nose, bleeding gums and/or internal bleeding. Anyone with these symptoms should call 911 or have someone drive them to the nearest emergency room.
Victims are treated with massive amounts of vitamin K, which helps restore the blood’s ability to clot. Because brodifacoum lasts a very long time in the body, patients may need to take the supplement, which costs thousands of dollars, for up to six months after ingesting the poison. IDPH recently received a donation of nearly 800,000 tablets of vitamin K from the Bausch Foundation and Valeant Pharmaceuticals. The donation will allow every individual who has experienced severe bleeding to receive life-saving treatment free of charge.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.