At least 33 dead in vape epidemic; CDC says black market THC products playing 'major role'

At least 33 deaths across 24 states have now been linked to vape-related illnesses, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that illegal or black market THC products are largely fueling the outbreak, but stopping short of identifying these products as the main cause.

Of the victims in 1,479 confirmed EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury) cases, 849 of them were able to identify which products they used before falling ill. Of those cases, 78 percent reported using THC-containing products, with or without nicotine-containing products, in the three months prior to developing symptoms.

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“We do know that THC is present in most of the samples tested by the [Food and Drug Administration] to date, and most patients report a history of using THC-containing products,” the CDC said in an update on Thursday. “The latest national and state findings suggest products containing THC, particularly those obtained off the street or from other informal sources (e.g. friends, family members, illicit dealers), are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”

The CDC recommended that consumers stop using THC-containing e-cigarette or vape products, and encouraged users to step away from all products altogether, since there isn’t one specific ingredient or product linked to all cases.

“At this time, FDA and CDC have not identified the cause or causes of the lung injuries in these cases, and the only commonality among all cases is that patients report the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products,” the agency said. “No one compound or ingredient has emerged as the cause of these illnesses to date, and it may be that there is more than one cause of this outbreak. Many different substances and product sources are still under investigation. The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time.”

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Last month, police seized nearly $4 million worth of illegal THC vaping cartridges from a Minnesota residence as law enforcement looks to crack down on the black market products linked to illnesses.

“We currently have Minnesota children who are on mechanical ventilation due to this vaping injury,” Daniel Hudd, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Public Health, said. “So far, our investigation is correlating these injuries to illegally purchased THC vape cartridge.”

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The youngest patient reported by the CDC to have fallen ill is just 13. Last week, an Arizona mother spoke out about finding her 16-year-old daughter unconscious in bed, and only when she was placed on life support did she find out that the teen had been vaping for the last two years.

“Devastated as a parent, I feel like a total failure,” said Betty Ford, whose daughter Samantha is likely to be at Phoenix Children’s Hospital for the next five weeks, to Fox 10 Phoenix.

Ford hopes her daughter’s ICU stay helps her friends stay away or quit vaping.

“I’m thinking that maybe seeing her this way might wake them up and that it can happen,” she told the news outlet.