The Metropolitan Police Department will crack down on the sale of synthetic drugs and focus on the prosecution of suppliers, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Cathy Lanier announced Monday.
"The city is going to target the suppliers who feed dangerous narcotics into our communities and shift away from outdated tactics focused on low-level users," Bowser said at a news conference Monday.
The MPD will increasingly focus on the distribution and sale of synthetic drugs, like MDMA, molly, bizarro, K2 and train wreck.
"The top three drugs – PCP, synthetic drugs, MDMA and other synthetics – are being networked in nightlife areas. And we’re going to go after those aggressively," Lanier said.
The overhaul in the city's drug enforcement policies follows the death on Thursday of a 19-year-old woman believed to have taken the drug molly at a music venue in D.C. The previous week, at least 11 people overdosed on bizarro in downtown D.C.
"When synthetic marijuana hit the market, it made you euphoric. Now it's making you more likely to be psychotic," Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said Monday.
The highly addictive drugs can cause psychotic episodes, aggressive behavior and seizures, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Molly, ecstasy and MDMA can cause an excessively high body temperature that can damage the heart, liver and kidneys, Nesbitt previously told News4.
The District is seeing a jump in overdoses from synthetic drugs, D.C. Fire and EMS Acting Chief Gregory Dean said.
"Since April, we’ve seen a spike," he said. "I think we saw like 97 in April, 204 patients in June, and through June 12 we've seen over 140."
MPD will transform seven separate vice units into a citywide drug unit under the Narcotics and Special Investigations division, using "cutting-edge technology." Another group called the Criminal Interdiction Unit will be formed and will focus on how suppliers pursue customers for synthetic drugs.
If Bowser gets Council approval, businesses caught selling synthetic drugs could be fined $10,000 and immediately shut down by Lanier during a 96-hour investigation period. Any business caught selling the potentially deadly drugs could be fined $20,000, shut down for 30 days and potentially lose their business license.
As police work to control the sale and distribution of synthetic drugs, the Department of Health would monitor the health impacts. Under Bowser's plan, hospitals would be required to report when patients turn up in emergency rooms with symptoms they have overdosed on the drugs. These patients would not be prosecuted and information about their drug use would not be shared with city service agencies, Nesbitt said.
Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander said Monday that she went into a shop in downtown D.C., near the John A. Wilson Building, and easily found synthetic drugs.
"I asked the gentleman if he had any Scooby Snax. He said no initially, and after I encouraged him a bit ... he went under the counter and presented me with a bag with Scooby-Doo on it that was synthetic marijuana," she said.
Acting as an undercover buyer, Alexander said she would have bought the large bag for $40, but when she presented a credit card she was told only cash was accepted.
"It shows me anyone can purchase it and they will sell to anyone," she said.