Homeless population contributes to increase in West Campus K2-related arrests

Mikaela Cannizzo

An increase in incidents involving K2, an illegal drug also referred to as synthetic marijuana, has resulted in more West Campus arrests within the past few weeks, according to the University of Texas Police Department.

 When K2 was a legal drug, Austin Police Department Lt. James Mason said there were challenges in enforcing strict policies against it. Since a Texas law illegalized the drug last September, Mason said law enforcement has more ability to combat the drug by spreading awareness, enforcing arrests on users and pushing for tougher penalties on offenders of the law.

According to Campus Watch reports, the 2300 block of Guadalupe Street is the most common location where K2 users are caught and arrested. There have been 14 K2-related incidents around West Campus this semester so far. UTPD Chief David Carter said the majority of arrests made in conjunction with the drug involve the homeless population in the area west of campus.

 “We’re still seeing a larger homeless community in the West Campus area,” Carter said. “We’ve also observed individuals that may be acting erratic or show symptoms of acute mental illness or possibly under the influence of drugs, which we believe to be K2.”

 With the expanding homelessness in West Campus, Carter said K2 has been a problem for the past couple of years. Carter said the police department has not seen any indication of students buying or using the drug, but students can still experience negative consequences of the drug because of the close proximity of users.

 “We see K2 as problematic because sometimes [there are] pretty bad reactions to it,” Carter said. “The effect on the students is really just the quality of life in the area, and if there are people acting in a threatening manner, that’s causing the UTPD great concern.”

 According to an article on the University Health Services website, K2 contains dangerous chemicals that are stronger than natural marijuana. The drug is sold in small packs and can have severe consequences on users.

 “K2 is often described as natural and a safe, legal alternative to marijuana, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that consumption of K2 can cause very dangerous results,” according to the article. “When K2 is smoked, the chemicals increase heart rate, may cause hallucinations, aggressive or violent behavior and in some cases, users experience psychosis and kidney damage.”

 Mason said depending on the dosage received, users typically experience increased body temperature, aggressive behavior and extreme strength, which can be potential threats to people around them.

 Mason said APD also sees a high amount of K2 dealings and usage downtown near Sixth Street and the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. While the drug does not have the same presence in West Campus as it has downtown, Mason said K2 is starting to gain popularity in that area due to homeless people moving there.

 “[K2] has migrated from other parts of the city into West Campus,” Mason said. “It’s there, and I don’t think it’s a large problem, but it’s something we definitely keep tabs on.”