TEXARKANA, Texas -- A contaminated drug has killed seven people in the community in the last week, officials said Wednesday.
The drug -- often called synthetic marijuana, K2 or spice -- has resulted in 17 overdose cases during the same time period.
"We have got to get the word out about this," Bowie County Health Authority Dr. Matt Young said at a news conference Wednesday morning at the Texarkana Texas Police Department training center.
Young said the number of overdoses has resulted in a local public health emergency.
The news conference was put together in 48 hours after another overdose in the community was reported Sunday, Young said
For a number of years, traumatic injuries accidents were the leading cause of death for people between 18 and 35. That has been surpassed by drug overdoses, Young said.
"The drug overdoses have taken over, and we are not immune to that here," he said.
At first, officials believed the K2 might be contaminated with fentanyl, Young said. However, they are actually doctored with a type of psychoactive cannabinoid chemical.
The chemical can be injected into synthetic marijuana, cocaine or methamphetamine.
The local overdoses are being seen in recreational users who have been unaware of the deadly consequences, Young said.
The overdoses have occurred in different demographics.
"They go across every class in our society," Young said. "Our agenda here is simple. We are working together to save lives. One pill can kill, one hit can kill," Young said.
Symptoms of the overdoses include heightened or irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, paranoia and seizures. Most police and firefighters carry Narcan, which can help a person who has overdosed.
Officials from both sides of Texarkana and Bowie and Miller counties spoke attended the press conference, along with Miller County Health Authority Dr. Matt Nix.
Mayor Bob Bruggeman, Police Chief Kevin Schutte, Bowie County Sheriff Jeff Neal and Fire Chief Chris Black represented the Texas side. Mayor Allen Brown, Police Chief Michael Kramm, Sheriff Wayne Easley and Fire Chief David Fletcher represented the Arkansas side.
The illicit substances can also be manufactured or pressed to resemble a prescription drug. The most common look like pain pills such as hydrocodone but can also include medicine for high blood pressure or diabetes. It can also be made to resemble candy.
Schutte said it is too early for investigators to know specifically where the contaminated drugs are coming from.
"It's man-made, so it can come from pretty much anywhere. That's one reason why this investigation is so intense. Interstate 30 is a drug route corridor," he said.
A synthetic substance can be made in China, make its way to Mexico and then be dispersed along the drug trade routes, according to police.
Substances found in Texarkana have been sent to labs for further testing, Schutte said.
Law enforcement and city officials are in constant communication on the issue, Schutte said.
"We are two separate cities but one community," he said.
Police ask if anyone knows anything relating to the investigation to call 911 or their local department. Callers can remain anonymous.