South Florida children overdosing on THC edibles stirs concern: CBS News Miami investigates

by 24USATVFeb. 6, 2024, 3 a.m. 22
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MIAMI - CBS News Miami uncovered new and startling information about the number of teens, children and even toddlers overdosing on THC edibles.

This year is on track to reach record numbers in Florida.

Students at Lauderdale Lakes Middle School in Broward County told CBS Miami it has been a big topic of conversation in their homes and among each other. Three students were recently hospitalized for showing signs of an overdose linked to THC edibles and a similar event just two weeks prior to that one where a student ate THC edibles, mistaking it for regular candy.

With their parents' permission, CBS News Miami spoke with students about the issue. 8th grader Maleya Palmer said what happened hit too close to home.

"Two of the girls it happened to they are in my class and the other girl I'm really good friends with. So basically, what they are saying is they took some edibles, they took edibles and they overdosed on it," said 8th grader Maleya Palmer.

She said young people getting ahold of edibles is more common than parents might think and that her mother had an important conversation with her not to take candy from anyone, even classmates.

"My biggest concern is how they are actually just doing it without any second thoughts. It actually breaks my heart a little bit because they are so young. They are 11 or 13 years old and they are doing drugs like that," said Plamer.

11-year-old Pablo Lopez also said that some of his classmates take edibles.

"I try to tell my friends don't do that. That's kind of messed up," said Lopez.

He said she is aware of the situation.

"It is very scary honey, Very scary. Every day I just pray that the conversations I have with my children are sinking in and they are taking my advice," said Denise DeJesus.

At the poison control headquarters in South Florida, they have been flooded with calls of young people overdosing on cannabis edibles.

Symptoms of a cannabis edibles overdose range from extreme anxiety, panic attacks or hallucinations, to major effects that would be considered life-threatening

including multiple seizures and sedation to the point where the person was no longer responsive or having difficulty breathing.

The number of cannabis edibles overdoses has never been higher.

"For the past three years, we've been averaging about 11 calls per week. Then we had a recent peak. So just in January, we started averaging 25 calls per week, so we are watching that with some alarm. We really haven't seen children in the hospital with seizures in the past. So, families are shocked. They feel terrible and they are blindsided by this and we don't want that. We want people to have some understanding that if you bring it into your home, you have to use it with caution," said Wendy Stephan, an Epidemiologist and Health Education Coordinator at Poison Control Center in South Florida.

Medical marijuana is legal in Florida so it's in households. Experts say in many of the cases, youth are finding the edibles in their homes.

"We had a case I was just looking at with at 13-month-old. The parents brought the child in because the child wouldn't wake up essentially. The child was dopey, and they were worried about infection and they didn't know what had happened. The tox screen came up positive for cannabis. So, the child had somehow found it," said Stephan.

"Worst case scenario would be death. That's very rare but it has been reported, it has occurred and it's really a spectrum depending on how much you get so the biggest problem is dose. If you had asked me this six years ago, I think we had about five cases. This year we are several hundred and about 800 this past year," said Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein a Medical Toxicologist.

Poison control workers say they are doing a lot of outreach work to raise awareness here in South Florida, They compiled the very latest data for CBS News Miami.

"We've seen a 24-percent increase year over year for the edibles specifically. We do get calls about other forms of marijuana but edibles are really where we are the most concerned about harm. So if this trajectory stays on pace, yeah it's going to be a record year," said Stephan.

The problem is big but experts say the solution is simple. Secure your medications.

"So starting right at the dispensary, if people are using a licensed dispensary, they can choose a child safe packaging option. You can see this, we actually tested this with one of our student's children and it defeated both the 4-year-old and the 7-year-old so we were pretty excited about that. This is another option, not just for cannabis products but for any medication. This is great for travel. The idea that is portable, Then you can kind of go up from there in terms of security. This is one you would maybe keep in a closet. This is also lockable.

South Florida poison control workers say if you use medical cannabis MAKE sure it's locked up have the potentially lifesaving conversation with your youth not to take candy from anyone unless you are absolutely certain what you're taking. Poison control workers told CBS Miami that all calls to the center are confidential and they are available 24 hours per day.

If you have a poisoning emergency, you can call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a trained professional.

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