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East Harlem Residents Say City's War On K2 Improved Quality Of Life

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It was one of the biggest stories of summer 2015 -- a drug crisis that ruined lives and impacted the quality of life in many neighborhoods.

Now, the city is claiming real progress in the fight against synthetic marijuana.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, a cool East Harlem evening in May 2016, feels far removed from the heat of last August, when homeless people openly smoked synthetic marijuana known as K2.

Paramedics stayed busy taking abusers to the emergency room.

Walking on Lexington Ave last summer the trash on the sidewalk prominently featured bags of synthetic marijuana, usually empty, but not always.

Last year when CBS2's Aiello found a full bag a user tried to buy it for $5.

"It was a crisis without a doubt," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.

The council speaker represents East Harlem, and helped push the city to a multi-phase response.

The NYPD stepped up enforcement, stores selling K2 were closed, shipments were seized, penalties increased, and an education campaign was launched.

Months later there were signs of progress.

Emergency room visits for K2 dropped 85 percent, from 1,200 patients last July to just 200 in March.

"It's not very often that you hear about an 85 percent reduction in any situation, so this has proven to be very effective and we want to maintain it that way," Mark-Viverito said.

Kenya Williams said she feels safer with fewer on the streets openly using K2. NYPD video footage shows how some users can turn violent.

"When I come out late at night they're not here as much. There's more police officers here," Williams said.

Benches that were full of K2 users last year are empty now, and residents want to keep it that way.

The mayor's office said the multi-agency effort to 'KO-K2' will continue. State and federal agencies also played a role in attacking the drug.


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