The Anchorage Fire Department said Monday that its emergency medical responders picked up 88 people in the past 10 days who were known or suspected to have used synthetic marijuana, or Spice.
Those patients in the 10-day period ending Sunday represented about 17 percent of the fire department's total number of transports, Assistant Chief Erich Scheunemann said in an email.
City police said last week that they were responding to a spike in the number of Spice-related hospitalizations, and the executive director of one local social service organization near downtown Anchorage said the drug had left the surrounding area like a "war zone."
Anchorage Police Department acting Deputy Chief Garry Gilliam said Monday that the cases are under investigation, but added that police haven't uncovered a distinct cause.
"We don't think that there has been a sudden rise in the use of Spice. We think there's been a certain level, but something has changed," Gilliam said in a phone interview. "We don't have anything to report at this time that would lead us to believe it's a single source or type of Spice. We're not there yet."
Gilliam said police have received allegations about people dealing Spice and suspects have been identified. Police have also made seizures of the drug.
State and city public health officials are investigating as well but wouldn't provide details Monday about what they've learned.
The data provided by the city fire department showed that its emergency responders picked up as many as 18 people who had used Spice, or were suspected to have used it, on a single day last week. The department couldn't immediately provide additional data from earlier in the summer, or from last year, for comparison.
Bean's Cafe, a local soup kitchen, held a memorial service Wednesday for seven people who had recently died, and Executive Director Lisa Sauder said she suspected that Spice may have been connected to some of the deaths.
She said Monday that she was hopeful the spike in Spice-related problems had subsided. Fire officials reported eight Spice-related transports Saturday and three Sunday -- numbers substantially lower than in the previous three days.
"Today, so far, has been quiet," Sauder said in a phone interview.
Initially, she added, it was difficult for Bean's Cafe to reach its clients to warn them of the dangers of Spice consumption.
"Not every homeless person has access to a television or a newspaper or is necessarily aware of what's going on -- it's been kind of a challenge trying to get the word out," Sauder said. "It was incredibly scary and frustrating and devastating -- our staff was just beside themselves."
She said she hopes ultimately to meet with city police, the mayor's office and state health officials for a debrief, and to determine how best to respond the next time similar problems arise.