Southeast Youth Address K2 Drug Problem

Deputy Mayor Courtney Snowden speaks about violence and K2 on community panel. Photo by: Roy Lewis

WASHINGTON — Young adults in Southeast are using videos, song, art and their voices to warn their peers and others about the dangers of K2 – a form of synthetic marijuana that is sending D.C. residents to emergency rooms and, Ward 8 residents said, causing havoc in their neighborhoods.

Their efforts were highlighted during a back-to-school panel and community meeting Monday, Aug. 31 at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Southeast at an evening event during which Deputy Mayor Courtney Snowden, activist Ron Moten and others discussed the drug and other problems facing the community.

The young people’s efforts were immediately apparent at the Center including posters that read “R.I.P” and “Gone but not forgotten.”

They also showed two videos.

The first was by a group with the District of Columbia Prevention Center which has been tracking the progression of K2 since 2011. Their recent work includes working with District youth from Ward 7 in order to increase awareness. The video, entitled “My Community,” used the seven steps of strategic prevention as the foundation for their storyline. Narrated by 18-year-old Lavelle Cross, it illustrated how K2 can destroy a community.

The second video, “Real People Don’t Smoke K2,” a PSA in music video form created by members of Mayor Bowser’s DC Bosses Summer Youth Employment (SYEP), featured students acting as zombies and mimicking the effects of K2 usage, including profuse bleeding, violent or catatonic behavior and vomiting played over a repeating rap refrain “Real people don’t smoke fake weed.”

Johnetta Simmons, a member of SYEP, starred in the video. Simmons was been stabbed at 10 and age 15, and her life experiences support her powerful message about K2.

“My definition of K2 is self-inflicted destruction,” Simmons told the audience after the video. “I’m just here to say what y’all smoke is not what y’all think is saving you from dirty urine when the reality is killing y’all softly. This synthetic drug is killing y’all and y’all don’t see it.”

K2 or "Spice" packet. Curtesy of drugabuse.gov

Panelist Christopher Proctor, a former K2 user, said one of the main reasons for the prevalence of K2 versus marijuana is because the drug cannot be detected in their urine, known as “dirty urine” during the tests required by potential or current employers.

“People who cared about me saw me going down the wrong path. They said I had lost my glow. They said I was looking like a bum. I took that into [account], changed my life and stopped smoking it. Now I’m just trying to pass that knowledge on to other youth.”

Panelist Dr. Omar Abdul-Malil, a physician at Hadley Hospital, said the effects of the drug are astounding sharing memories of one person temporarily losing the ability to walk.

“Some [under the influence] become very violent and have to be restrained,” he said. “Others go into a fetal position. They are drooling. We have to put diapers on them because they are going to the bathroom on themselves.”

“For some, it acts like a central nervous stimulant. For others it acts like a depressant so they can’t breathe. Some have heart attacks, some have strokes and there’s really no way to test for it. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added.

The deputy mayor, who spoke briefly, said she believes K2 is one of the many causes of the rise in D. C. crime.

“As you can imagine, we have been hyper-focused on all the work that needs to be done in the community to help combat what has been a horrific spike in violent crime here in the District of Columbia,” she said.

The closing words of one video summed up why the young people remain determined to fight the drug.

“Because at the end of the day it’s all about saving my family, my friends and my community,” the narrator proclaimed.