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San Diego authorities warn vaping crisis not letting up


The vaping crisis that has sickened at least 1,888 people across the nation remains a real threat, health and law enforcement authorities said Friday.

The outbreak was the focus of discussion at San Diego’s annual Red Ribbon luncheon recognizing drug prevention efforts in the community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have so far linked 37 deaths to the crisis, including three in California. In San Diego County, public health officials have confirmed 31 cases of illnesses.

The CDC investigation has not been able to identify a single substance responsible for the outbreak but have reported that most appear linked to black market vaping devices containing THC.

Because of the uncertainty of the root cause, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, advised it’s best to refrain from all e-cigarette and THC vaping.

In a news conference before the luncheon, DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Colin Ruane warned that recent raids of illicit THC extraction labs have shown unsafe, unsanitary conditions, as well as harmful chemicals being used in the extraction process, he said.

“There’s no quality control,” Ruane said, noting that even name brands sold at illicit pop-up stores are likely counterfeit products.

E-cigarettes containing nicotine have become especially popular among youth, creating a parallel public health concern.

Joe Eberstein, program manager for the San Diego County Marijuana Prevention Initiative, said he is inundated with requests from schools to talk about the dangers of vaping. When he arrives for such talks, school administrators often hand him a bag of vaping devices that have been confiscated at the campus, he said.

The luncheon, launched some 16 years ago, honors law enforcement, schools and community organizations fighting against drug abuse. The Red Ribbon Campaign was created in 1986 in memory of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was murdered by drug traffickers.

This year, former San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman was honored with the Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Law Enforcement Award for her work going “above and beyond the call of duty” within the community to promote prevention.





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