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53-year-old man arrested in connection with over 100 synthetic pot overdoses

Over 70 people overdose in Conn.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A 53-year-old man has been arrested in connection with more than 100 synthetic-marijuana overdoses, many of them in the same New Haven park, after authorities say they caught him with 32 bags of the drug, police said Friday. 

Some of the victims identified John Parker, of New Haven, as one of the people who was dealing K2 on the New Haven Green, where most of the overdoses occurred Wednesday and Thursday, Police Chief Anthony Campbell said. 

An official in the city said Wednesday there were a total of 25 overdoses over a three-hour span and that some overdoses were "in multiples of 4-6 at a time." All of those overdoses were in the area of the New Haven Green, said Rick Fontana, the city's director of emergency operations.

No deaths were reported, and officials said most people recovered quickly. No overdoses were reported on Friday.

Parker, who was arrested Wednesday, was charged with drug crimes after being found in possession of the K2 bags, Campbell said. He was also charged in connection with drug sales in the city earlier this year, the chief said.

Campbell also said two other people were arrested -- one by New Haven police and one by federal authorities -- but investigators were trying to determine whether they were connected to the overdoses. 

Authorities described chaotic scenes at the park near Yale University, with people falling unconscious at the same time. Others became nauseated and vomited, officials said. 

Some people who overdosed returned to the green and overdosed again, officials said.

Parker was detained on $225,000 bail. A public defender said there was no proof linking any drugs Parker may have had to the overdoses.

The arrests do not mean all the bad K2 has been located, Campbell said.

"We want people to be warned that what they have could be extremely dangerous and they should not use it," he said.

One of the other men arrested, Felix Melendez, 37, was charged with drug crimes during the investigation, but Campbell said it hadn't been determined whether he was connected to the overdoses. He was found in possession of K2 and received a two-year probation sentence earlier this year for selling the same drug on the green.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Melendez had a lawyer who could respond to the allegations.

Federal authorities arrested a third person, who was not identified, Campbell said.

Synthetic marijuana, called "spice" and other names, usually is plant material sprayed with chemicals or other substances that is sold in small, colorful packets. 

The chemical compounds in synthetic marijuana have been linked to a number of severe side effects, including seizures, psychosis and death. In 2017, a review of studies on synthetic marijuana published in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences concluded that these compounds are more dangerous than pot.

Synthetic marijuana compounds "produce a variety of dangerous acute and chronic adverse effects... with a greater severity and frequency than observed following marijuana use," the researchers wrote. As such, "K2/Spice products are clearly not safe marijuana alternatives," the researchers said.

Synthetic marijuana has been blamed for other mass overdoses across the country. In May, more than 50 people in New York overdosed on K2, none fatally.