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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

By now, the flooding and other damage from extreme weather is something you've heard about. Now, here's a crisis you may not have heard much about - overdoses believed to have been caused by the use of synthetic marijuana. Here in Washington, D.C., officials say medics evaluated 118 people between Wednesday and midday Friday for suspected overdoses and transported nearly 100 of them to the hospital. And, according to The Washington Post, officials are looking into five deaths that they think may be related to the overdoses. In July, more than 300 people overdosed in Washington, D.C., in a three-week period.

But this isn't a problem limited to Washington, D.C. In New Haven, Conn., last month, 70 people overdosed. We're joined now by Washington, D.C., Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean to tell us more about this. Chief, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GREGORY DEAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Can you tell us any more about this recent spate of overdoses?

DEAN: Well, we can't tell you why. We can tell you what we're doing here in the District to address it. So the mayor has asked us to bring all of the partners together. So we have a fire department. We have law enforcement. We have Health and Human Services. We have the medical director. We also have our Department of Forensics. Everybody has a part in this, health - and our behavior people. So the fire department is responding, and we're providing service to the patients.

MARTIN: I'm going to stick a little bit more with the why if you don't mind...

DEAN: OK.

MARTIN: ...Because these all happened within blocks of one another - in fact, right near our offices here. Any idea why that might be?

DEAN: So I don't know that I can answer the why. You know, we are putting resources over there trying to see if we can deal with it, such as police, if they're looking in the areas that we've seen a constant flow of patients, be it Health and Human Services, if they're are providing services, making sure they have water. Behavioral Health is over there offering assistance. So, again, I think if you look all around the country, if we can answer the why, I think we can all get there. So it really is, what are we doing to address the problem as it's here? And that is trying to get all these resources out there to assist people that are finding - taking a drug that can cause death.

MARTIN: Can you just tell me, though, is there something in the nature of this particular drug itself that's leading to these terrible health effects? Or is there - is it tainted with something? Is there some, you know, is there some contamination involved here? From what you know so far, I understand it's early days.

DEAN: Yeah. From what we know, even coming out of this summer, is that it's synthetic drugs that are mixed with a unknown substance. So, you know, we're used to buying - going to the store, we're buying something that has met all the requirements. These drugs are not required to meet any requirements. And, in turn, people do not know what they're taking. So that's why the Department of Forensics is involved because they're going through and trying to do the makeup of these types of drugs that may help us in the future.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, what are you most concerned about right now?

DEAN: Concerned about the health and welfare of our citizens. And that is why we are bringing all these resources together. And the mayor has asked that we look very closely at trying to keep our citizens safe. And we need help from our residents. If you see someone, see them in trouble, please call 911 so that we are able to provide the care that they need.

MARTIN: That is Washington, D.C., Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean. Chief, thank you so much for talking with us.

DEAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.