HOUSTON – The City of Houston is trying something new to get users of Kush, or synthetic marijuana, off the streets.
Four months ago, city officials launched a pilot program called the Public Intoxication Team.
The PIT Team is designed to take some of the stress of law enforcement. It also gives people who are high on the drug an alternative to going to jail or to the hospital.
“[These people] are almost like zombies. That’s where the issue lies, because they’ll walk into the street. They don’t know what’s going on. They don’t respond to normal stimuli,” said Michael Zamarron, a member of the Public Intoxication Team. He also works as a Peer Support Specialist at the Houston Recovery Center.
Now that the PIT Team van is on the streets, law enforcement officers and firefighters call them when they find someone who is publicly intoxicated.
If the person doesn’t need medical help, they are taken to the Sobering Center at the Houston Recovery Center to sleep it off.
Marc Eichenbaum, the mayor’s deputy special assistant on homelessness, said the PIT Team has responded to approximately 600 calls in the last four months. 500 people were transported to the Sobering Center.
Eichenbaum said 80 percent of the people transported were high on Kush. Another 16 percent were drunk and four percent were high on marijuana.
City officials said they hope to save first responders time and tax payers money with the program. They also want to connect people dealing with addiction to the assistance they need.
“Once they sober up, then we give them an opportunity for an intervention,” said Zamarron. “Not everybody [wants help], but there are some that do. As long as there’s one person that takes it, then we’ll continue doing what we do.”
The Public Intoxication Team is currently made up of two people: a peer support specialist and an EMT. They patrol and respond to calls in a limited area five days a week.
The pilot program, funded by both public and private agencies, was initially slated to last two months. It was then extended another three months. At the end of September, city leaders will decide if they’ll continue the program.
“There should be more of us. Let’s just put it that way. We are inundated with a lot of calls. There should be more vans and more people out here dealing with this situation. Because it’s not something that’s going to go away,” said Zamarron. “We’re not an end all to the problem that’s out here. It’s not a solution in any way, but we’re part of the solution.”
The PIT Team is only one of the ways the City is trying to crack down on the Kush epidemic.
Eichenbaum said there is also an unprecedented number of undercover operations against manufacturers, distributors and sellers happening in the City of Houston.