11 teens hospitalized after eating THC-infused gummy bears

Published: Jul. 7, 2017 at 9:27 AM EDT
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Police in La Porte County are investigating after a group of teenagers ate drug-infused gummy bears.

Late Thursday night, police were called out to the 5200 block of County Road 325 West.

A 19-year-old had called 911 and was waiting along the road. He told a sheriff’s deputy that he ingested an unknown drug and was sick and wanted to go to the emergency room.

"You know I'll tell you that in 31 years on the job I've never seen that many people affected by eating a gummy bear," said Captain Mike Kellems, La Porte County Sheriff's Department.

The teen was experiencing rapid heart rate, pain in his legs, hallucinations and blurred vision. He told police he was in the area with friends who had also taken the drugs.

In a nearby home, first responders found ten other teenagers experiencing the same side effects. At the time, first responders had no idea what the teens had ingested.

"This wasn't one bad gummy bear. They tell us that they had six and they cut each of them in half. There were 11 kids so there was a half leftover and each ingested a half of a gummy bear," said Kellems.

After admitting all 11 people to local hospitals, lab results determined they had extremely high levels of THC in their systems.

THC is the street term for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is an active ingredient found in marijuana.

Not your average gummy bears, these were larger versions of the candy, specially manufactured with THC pre-infused.

"Their heart rates were upwards of 200 and that's not safe," said Kellems. "We're confident they knew what they were getting into but I don't think they knew the severity of it."

Friday, officers are calling this a wake-up call for teens and parents everywhere.

"More and more so these days, we're coming across unknown items that have been ingested. So yes there is potential there for this to be deadly," said Andrew McGuire, administrator, La Porte County EMS.

McGuire says there is potential for a "deadly" outcome because of the unknown.

"You don't know what you're going to get. It's the same thing we've seen with heroin. When you buy heroin, you don't know whether it's pure, you don't know if it's laced with elephant tranquilizer, you don't know what it is. There's no quality control, they don't care. They want to make their money and move on," said Kellems.

Officials say this is a forewarning to others.

"Because we're talking about a gummy bear for heaven's sake and that's affected these teens adversely, and who would think, 'oh a gummy bear is going to cause my child a problem?'" said Kellems. "But nowadays you have to be aware that, you have to be aware of everything that's going to be around them because you could end up with a very negative impact or a death."

Eleven 18- and 19-year-olds were treated and released by Friday morning. Police say six of the teens are male, and five are female.

Kellems says in addition to those dangerous levels of THC, it is possible that another drug was laced into the gummies. Officers were able to collect one-half of a gummy bear that was leftover and will know more when they send it to the lab for testing.

Kellems also says it will be up to the La Porte County Prosecutor to determine if anyone will face criminal charges in this case.

Indiana has a

, providing immunity from arrest or prosecution to teens who call for help if they are under the influence of alcohol.

It is unclear whether or not that will apply in this case.

Police are still trying to determine where the gummy bears came from. Kellems says it is likely they were purchased out of state. All 11 teens involved are from the Indianapolis area and were staying at a residence of a relative of one of the teens.

Meantime in St. Joseph County, South Bend city officials are hoping to reduce the use of synthetic drugs with a proposed ordinance.

The new ordinance would make it easier for police officers to determine which stores are selling the drugs.

Council members proposed the ordinance, because they say synthetic drug use has become a major problem in the area.

Memorial Hospital officials say 981 people were sent to the ER after using synthetic drugs in 2016.

Police say oftentimes, they don't know what the drugs are made up of.

"Obviously since they're all illicit, or at least most of them are illicit, no controls over how they're being manufactured, about what the materials are like, about how they're being marketed or handled. So, i mean, they're a problem from every possible perspective," said Asst. Chief Bill Thompson, St. Joseph County Police.

The proposal will go before the common council in two weeks.


From the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office:
The La Porte County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an incident that occurred just prior to midnight on Thursday July 7, 2017 involving several teens and narcotics. Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the 5200 N block of CR 325 W regarding a person that had called 911 and was requesting medical assistance. Deputy Justin Phillips was the first to arrive and found a 19-year-old male along the road. The male told Deputy Phillips that he had ingested an unknown type drug and was ill and wanted to go to the emergency room. He further related that he was in the area camping with friends and that they too had ingested the drug however because he was not from the area wasn’t sure where his friends were although he believed that they were in a home nearby. As other sheriff’s deputies arrived to assist they were able to locate a home in the 5200 N block of CR 325 W where this is believed to have occurred. In the residence they found ten other teenagers all of whom had ingested an unknown narcotic that was making them ill. All complained of rapid heart rate, pain in their legs and blurred vision; several were suffering from hallucinations. Deputy Phillips was able to determine that the teens had each ingested one half of a gummy bear that supposedly contained THC. “THC” is the street term for tetrahydrocannabinol which is an active ingredient found in marijuana. La Porte County Emergency Medical Service was called to the scene and responded with three ambulances and transported 11 patients to two area hospitals. Four were taken to Franciscan St. Anthony’s in Michigan City and seven were transported to La Porte Hospital. All of the teens were from Fishers, Indiana and believed to have been staying at a residence of a relative of one of the teens. Nine of the teens are 18-years-old and two were 19-years-old; six were males and five were females. Two of the patients were tested and were found to have high levels of THC in their system. The origin of the narcotic infused gummy bears is not known however La Porte County Drug Task Force investigators have been notified and are actively pursuing leads in the case. The matter will be reviewed by the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office to determine if any criminal charges will apply.