CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A woman faces a federal charge alleging she distributed a form of synthetic marijuana that damaged the kidneys of a Casper teenager — one of several young people whose hospitalizations prompted urgent public health warnings about the drug.
A criminal complaint entered Friday in U.S. District Court in Casper charges Julia R. Cox with distribution of "spice, a synthetic cannabis." The complaint says a 15-year-old boy was treated for renal failure at the Children's Hospital in Colorado after taking the drug earlier this year.
Detective Jeremy Tremel of the Casper Police Department said in court records that he started investigating in March after the Natrona County Health Department reported some young people had been admitted to the Wyoming Medical Center with renal failure after smoking the drug. The 15-year-old boy was transported to the Colorado hospital for more advanced treatment.
The Wyoming Department of Health issued a public warning March 1.
"Our message today is more than a general health warning," Dr. Tracy Murphy, state epidemiologist, stated at the time. "At this point we are viewing use of this drug as a potentially life-threatening situation."
According to court documents, a source told Tremel last week that Cox was responsible for the spice that injured the 15-year-old. Tremel said he and other officers confiscated about one-half pound of spice from Cox's Casper hotel room last week. She told officers she is from Tennessee.
Cox faces a detention hearing Tuesday in Casper before U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Michael Shickich.
Stephanie I. Sprecher, prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment Monday. Court records don't reflect Cox has an attorney yet.
Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said Monday the department received reports of nine people becoming ill from using the drug from the end of February through March. She said no outbreaks have been reported since.
"No other cause was found for these illnesses so we did consider the spice use to be a likely cause," Deti said in a statement. "We have not been informed of any specific ingredient within the material as causing the illnesses."
Of the reported cases, four were hospitalized with renal dysfunction, she said. The office had no information on their long-term status.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last week seized more than $36 million in cash and arrested 91 people in a nationwide crackdown against manufacturers, distributors and vendors of synthetic designer drugs.
The DEA administrator, Michele Leonhart, said Thursday agents in 31 states also seized 4.9 million packets of synthetic marijuana and other drugs in a series of raids on Wednesday. Leonhart said the synthetic drugs are "marketed directly to teenagers."
"Many of these products come with a disclaimer that they are 'not for human consumption' to mask the danger they pose," Leonhart said.