Tainted synthetic pot eyed as cause of another Illinois death as store owner accused of selling substance held without bail
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Leroy N. Soetoro
2018-04-09 02:12:08 UTC

As a Chicago convenience store owner accused of selling tainted synthetic
pot was ordered to be held without bond Friday, authorities were
investigating the possibility that a third death could be tied to an
outbreak that has now sickened nearly 100 people in Illinois and continues
to worsen.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office reported Friday that rat poison
— an ingredient that has recently been identified in several instances of
tainted synthetic marijuana that have turned up in central and northern
Illinois — was found in the body of a 22-year-old Chicago man who died
last month.

The medical examiner’s office did not release specific details of the
Chicago man’s demise March 28. But Oak Lawn police said Friday that they
investigated the death that occurred on the same day of a 22-year-old
Chicago man who, according to his family, recently had been smoking
synthetic marijuana. The man was found at a hotel on Cicero Avenue in Oak
Lawn, according to a police news release.

An autopsy revealed brodifacoum in the man’s system and showed excessive
internal bleeding, according to police and the medical examiner’s office.

Brodifacoum is a rat poison. Health officials warned that poisoning by the
ingredient causes severe bleeding that can be fatal or lead to symptoms
that last for months, including unexplained bruising, bleeding in the
brain and vomiting blood. Recent patient reports of severe bleeding led
health officials to warn the public not to use any synthetic cannabinoid

“Brodifacoum is a highly lethal rodenticide and should not be consumed,”
Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, Cook County’s chief medical examiner, said in a news
release as the outbreak entered its second month.

As of Friday, Illinois Department of Public Health officials have received
reports of 95 cases, including two deaths, linked to an outbreak of cases
reporting use of fake pot products before suffering from severe bleeding
since March 7.

According to federal prosecutors, as many as five people who have
complained of urinating blood and other severe symptoms reported that they
got sick after using illegal synthetic marijuana they had purchased at
King Mini Mart at 1303 S. Kedzie Ave. in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood.

The owner of the convenience store, Fouad Masoud, 48, and two of his
employees, Jamil Abdelrahman Jad Allah and Adil Khan Mohammed, were
charged earlier this week with selling the synthetic pot branded with
names that included “Blue Giant,” “Crazy Monkey” and “Matrix.”

State health officials have said that the product is also sold under names
including “K2,” “Spice,” “Black Mamba,” “Bombay Blue,” “Genie” and

The investigation into the mini-mart owner and employees began last week
after Illinois State Police gave Chicago police information about someone
who had experienced adverse side effects reportedly after using synthetic
pot purchased at King Mini Mart. An undercover officer was sent into the
store and bought synthetic pot that was later tested and found to contain
rat poison, according to a criminal complaint.

In seeking to have Masoud detained pending trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney
Matthew Hernandez cited the number of people reportedly sickened from
product Masoud sold.

Hernandez also argued that Masoud, a Jordanian national, was a risk of
flight, telling U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin that when agents went
to arrest him Sunday night, he was leaving his Justice townhouse carrying
a paper grocery bag filled with $344,000 in cash. Police searched his home
and recovered 2,900 grams of suspected synthetic cannabis labeled “Purple

After his arrest, Masoud tried to mislead court officials by claiming to
be unemployed and denying that he owns the business, Hernandez said.

“That is a significant red flag,” the prosecutor said. “One has to wonder
where all that money came from and what (he) was going to do with it.”

Masoud also has a 2006 federal conviction for selling contraband
cigarettes in Indiana — a case that ended with a term of probation,
Hernandez said.

Masoud’s lawyer, Michelle Truesdale, said Masoud has lived in the Chicago
area for more than two decades and has a valid work visa.

He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted.

He and his employees are charged with conspiracy to knowingly and
intentionally possess with intent to distribute and to distribute a
controlled substance. The charges could expand further when he is

As state health officials have continued to report daily upticks in the
number of people reportedly sickened by the tainted synthetic marijuana,
health officials emphasized the serious harm that can come from
brodifacoum. The medical examiner’s office is also investigating another
case involving a person who died after suffering similar bleeding.
Toxicology testing is underway in that case, officials said.

Rat poison acts as a blood thinner and, “even without symptoms, the
blood’s ability to clot is severely impaired and risk of bleeding is
high,” said Dr. Jenny Lu, toxicologist and emergency medicine physician at
Cook County Health & Hospitals System’s Stroger Hospital.

Treatment includes a form of vitamin K that can only be prescribed by a
physician or given in the hospital and involves taking high doses for
weeks to months, Lu said. Other interventions may be necessary.

“As bleeding can be life-threatening, it is important that people who have
used synthetic marijuana seek medical attention at the first sign of
poisoning so we can begin treatment right away,” Lu said.

Though synthetic pot has long been considered dangerous, severe bleeding
was not a known side effect, said Dr. Melissa Millewich, an emergency room
physician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

“This bleeding is not expected, at least in such a significant population
so quickly,” she said.

Health officials say manufacturers could be slightly tweaking the
molecular makeup of the products as a way to “get around” a statewide ban
on fake pot products, allowing for them to be sold legally. They are also
sold on the street, she said, and those experiencing the bleeding said
they obtained the products in convenience stores and from dealers and

A change in the latest formula could be behind the new, dangerous symptom,
Millewich said. Because health officials don’t know the exact makeup of
the products, it’s unclear what’s causing the bleeding, she added.

While there have been no such cases at Good Samaritan’s ER, Millewich
said, synthetic pot has previously displayed life-threatening symptoms
like kidney failure, along with psychosis.

“People don’t realize how dangerous this is,” she said.

The man-made substance is a mixture of hundreds of chemicals, often called
cannabinoids because they affect the same brain cell receptors as the main
ingredient in marijuana. Cannabinoids are sometimes sprayed on plant
material for smoking, or are sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled
in e-cigarettes and other devices, a health department warning stated. The
products are also sometimes referred to as herbal or liquid incense.

Chicago Tribune’s Robert McCoppin and Kate Thayer contributed.



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2018-04-09 04:28:50 UTC
Post by Leroy N. Soetoro
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