By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Law-enforcement agents have arrested 6 people in New York accused of trafficking synthetic marijuana, an illegal drug that has sparked local health fears and led to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths this year, officials said on Wednesday.
A grand jury indicted 10 people accused of helping to import 220 pounds (100 kg) of illegal chemicals used to make the drug, which police say can cause hallucinations and give users superhuman strength. Six were arrested on Tuesday and the rest remain at large.
"Synthetic cannabinoids are a deadly serious problem that demands an equally serious response," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "Today’s collective action is just the start of that response, one that will not end until this poison in a packet no longer endangers our community.”
The grand jury indicted Abdullah Deiban, Faris Kassim, Morad Kassim, Nageab Saeed, Walide Saeed, Mohomed Saeed, Hamid Moshref, Mohamed Salem, Mohamed Almatheel and Fikri Nagi on charges including unlawful importation and distribution of controlled substances.
Their attorneys could not immediately be identified.
The amount of the seized chemicals were enough to produce more than a quarter-million packets of synthetic marijuana, also known as "K-2" or "spice," police say.
The drug, a mix of smokable dried plants and chemicals which is sold illegally for as little as $2 a packet, has become a top drug of concern for New York police, Commissioner Bill Bratton said.
Between April 1 and July 31, more than 1,900 people were admitted to hospitals in New York State after taking the substance, which can lead to severe medical conditions including cardiac arrest, police said.
It can exacerbate mental heath problems and cause paranoia, delirium and violent behavior.
Low-income teenagers and the homeless are some of the most common users of the drugs, lured to its cheap high and accessibility, police say.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)