Skid Row community leaders vent frustrations over spice epidemic

Skid Row community leaders are fed up with the recent spice epidemic that sent dozens of homeless to the hospital last month.

A town hall meeting on Wednesday that was billed as an education session about the drug got heated as people vented frustrations.   

“Blatant, this is blatant out here - drug sales, drug use, police roll past people, drinking, smoking, shooting up,” Eric Montgomery, a substance abuse counselor on Skid Row, said. 

Montgomery said, spice is just the latest in a long list of problems on Skid Row. 

According to the public health department, which hosted this town hall, what makes this drug so dangerous is its mixture with other chemicals. 

“Spice can often contain other chemicals like anti-freeze, brake fluid or insect killer,” Dr. Gary Tsai, Department of Public Health, said. “So the concern is that those other chemicals can have health impacts.”

Last month about 30 people were taken from 5th and San Pedro - dubbed “spice corner” -  to local hospitals after smoking a batch of the drug that made them sick. 

Police arrested five people linked to distributing the drug, but advocates believe the only way to stop the spice epidemic is to go after more dealers. 

“They come into this community after hours and they are here throughout the night,” Suzette Shaw, Skid Row resident, said. 

Advocates pleaded for more policing in the neighborhood, but they also need more resources for drug rehabilitation. 

“People need help,” advocate, Kevin Michael, said. “When I was using I needed help and it didn’t come from a nudge from the judge or being locked up, it came from me having some hope.”

The town hall’s attendees said it’s hard to get people off the drug when it’s so readily available and cheap. 

Spice smokers have said a joint only costs a dollar. 

“A lot of my clients say they can’t do it down here, they have to get out of the area and go to a residential treatment facility because it’s just too easy to get out here,” Montgomery said. 

City leaders and police have pledged more enforcement to help stop the spread of spice, but advocated who work with people on Skid Row said, they want to be included in conversations about solutions.

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