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City, HPD to Combat Houston's Kush Problem With More Uniformed Presence in Parks

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After 16 people overdosed on Kush in Hermann Park last week, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a new plan to combat the drug in Houston and create a larger uniformed presence at parks and areas where users often hang out.

The 16 who overdosed on Kush — which is sometimes called “synthetic marijuana” even though it is pretty much nothing like weed at all — were smoking in an area so notorious for Kush junkies that it’s nicknamed “Kush Corner.” Turner gathered law enforcement and health officials there to unveil his new initiative.

To combat the problem — not only in Hermann Park but also Main Street Square — Turner said the city is hiring 13 more park rangers, who will be trained by the Houston Police Department and communicate frequently with officers. The city is starting an overtime program in which HPD officers will be roving in the targeted parks, and also opening a new patrol division in the Central Business District, which users also frequent.

“Our parks are being taken over by people who are using drugs. They’re scaring away families and taxing our emergency medical services with their calls for help when they overdose,” Turner said. “Last week, 16 people overdosed here in this park and had to be taken for medical assistance — and then that was repeated, not necessarily on the same scale, the day after and the day after. We can’t have people smoking Kush and passing out just feet from where our children are playing.”

Since September 1, the Houston Fire Department has responded to a total of 3,000 overdose calls involving various substances. Nearly half of those calls — 1,396 — were for Kush, and of those, 129 were repeat callers. The drug’s side effects, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, can be serious, including seizures, loss of consciousness, violent outbursts and psychotic episodes.

Although many of the 16 who overdosed last week were homeless, according to firefighters, Turner cautioned conflating Kush users with homeless people. He said because of its availability at smoke shops that sell the drug under the counter in brightly colored packages with catchy nicknames, it’s also attractive to teenagers. Selling or possessing Kush is a ticket-able offense in Houston, though Turner said targeting the manufacturers and sellers will be key to ridding the city of this problem. He also wants to find a way to offer more substance abuse resources and detox centers to those who are hooked. For a cash-strapped city, though, that sounds like a long-term, far-reaching plan.

In the meantime, the Harris County Attorney’s Office has partnered up with the Texas Attorney General’s Office to systematically wipe out the sellers in Houston and the greater area. So far, the agencies have filed nine lawsuits against various head shops and convenience stores, who often sold the fake pot under the marketing guise of “incense” or “potpourri.” Some packages may even say “not for human consumption” or “100 percent legal.”

Which, as the county attorney’s office has told us before, are both 100 percent false.

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