Colorado health officials say 3 deaths may be linked to synthetic marijuana; 75 people sickened

DENVER - Colorado health officials say three deaths may be linked to people smoking synthetic marijuana that has sickened 75 people and triggered an epidemiological investigation by local, state and federal officials.

"Initial reports show approximately 75 people who reported smoking a form of synthetic marijuana may have been seen at hospitals in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs beginning in late August," Dr. Tista Ghosh, interim chief medical officer for the state, said Friday. "Several individuals were in intensive care and three deaths are being investigated as possibly associated."

"Don't wait for the results of this investigation. If you have synthetic marijuana, stop using it and destroy it, Dr. Ghosh warned.

Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said he didn't have information on where the suspected deaths have occurred. The state health agency, Tri-County Health Department, Denver Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are involved in the investigation.

The illegal synthetic drug -- sold under the names "Spice," "K-2," "Black Mamba" and "Crazy Monkey" -- is often marketed as incense on the packaging, but users smoke the drug.

State and local health officials will be working with area hospitals to complete chart reviews of patients who were sickened by the synthetic marijuana. CDC is sending a team of four, including a toxicologist and epidemiologist, to assist in the investigation. All investigatory records, including medical records, are confidential under state law and will remain so in this investigation, state officials said.

The state health agency says it routinely works with local public health agencies to investigate disease or illness outbreaks from communicable diseases and food borne illnesses. As with those investigations, the purpose of this investigation is to identify the cause of the illness so the public can be warned to avoid exposure.

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