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Tucson city leaders to discuss "Spice" problem

Posted at 7:30 PM, Sep 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-06 10:44:13-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) -- Martin "Doc" Marszalek gets a front row view of the drug use at Santa Rita Park, including Spice use.

"It is a psychotic," Marszalek said. "We had one guy, there's a dirt pile in the back, he was butt naked on that pile of ash."

Marszalek runs Veterans on Patrol. The group has a camp set up right outside of the park which is located at 401 E. 22nd Street. Marszalek says while he helps veterans get back on their feet, he helps all of the homeless people at the park.

"When I first arrived it [Spice use] was really pretty bad," Marszalek said. "You could always smell the odor in the air."

The synthetic drug is made by spraying chemicals onto a plant based material and can often be bought at smoke shops. Since the federal raids in July, Marszalek has noticed a significant decrease in the synthetic drug at the park. Three nearby smoke shops were shut down, he says, and now it's harder to find in that part of town. Still though, he'd like to see it gone.

"The worst thing I've seen out here since I've been in Tucson has been the Spice problem, because it's simply available just about everywhere," Marszalek said.

Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik is trying to change that, and on Wednesday the city council will discuss the issue.

"There are three parts of this -- enforcement, public education and there's treatment," Kozachik said. 

Kozachik says the main goal is to give Tucson Police the tools it needs to shut down the supply of Spice.

One big problem, Kozachik says, there's a list of ingredients that are illegal, but producers often get around the laws by manipulating the drugs. They can swap out a prohibited ingredient with another, and the drug will not technically be considered illegal.

"It's like a dog chasing it's tail trying to catch up with the producers," Kozachik said. "And the reason we need to do this locally is cause we can do that more quickly then the state or feds can do."

Between May 1 and July 27, the Tucson Fire Department responded to 192 Spice related calls. Kozachik says these calls are a drag on police, our paramedics and fire crews
After this Wednesday's meeting, the city attorney will work on drafting an ordinance. Some ideas include giving the city the power to shut down smoke shops caught selling Spice, or if they posses it with the intention of selling it.
In addition to preventing the sale of the synthetic drug, Kozachik hopes they can figure out a way to educate the public about the health risks, and make treatment alternatives available for users.
Kozachik says Tucson Police and other local health leaders will be part of the process. The city will look at similar ordinances implemented in New York City and San Diego.