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Peoria experts work to prevent next drug outbreak, learning from K2 deaths

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine – the world’s premiere medical publication – was written in and about the Heart of Illinois.

Unfortunately, the reason wasn’t positive: K2 AKA Spice, causing a deadly drug outbreak from March through April.

“Reports from the hospitals were….bam, bam, bam, bam, people showing up tot he ER with spontaneous bleeding episodes,” explained Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood. “We were very worried that we were going to have a lot of people die from it.”

Some did, but deaths were ultimately rare; of the 164 confirmed cases in the state, only four were fatal, with three of them being in Central Illinois.

Doctors Jonathan Roberts and Michael Tarantino of Peoria’s Bleeding & Clotting Disorders Institute helped author the paper, which – as they say – covered a topic no one else had.

“This information should be reported, there’s not a lot of medical literature on this,” Dr. Roberts explained.

Dr. Tarantino agreed: “This public health issue, that just came up, was of major importance. It was tantamount for us to spread the word.”

Their hunch turned out to be right, after a batch of K2 presented similar overdoses and health issues in Connecticut in August.

Peoria’s outbreak months prior helped hospitals give fast, accurate treatment.

“If (doctors) encounter a patient like this, they have some sort of precedent to base their symptoms on and see how patients have reacted to treatment,” explained Dr. Roberts.

Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell believes the Heart of Illinois has weathered the storm, and come out for the better by shedding light on a problem.

He hopes that light will help officials prepare better for the next outbreak.

“We’re not Chicago, we’re not St. Louis, these are real fears,” quipped Sheriff Asbell. “These are real problems in the community. And for the New England Journal to write about us, this is something you don’t want to be in the news about.”

He continued, “on the flip side, bringing awareness to the problem, shows it happens everywhere.”

Sheriff Asbell urges that anyone looking for help, without consequences, to call the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department: (309) 697-8515.

Mason Dowling

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