The majority of the vaping-related illnesses in Massachusetts remain tied to marijuana, but state health officials said Wednesday that they still can’t say whether the vapes making people sick are from regulated stores or the illicit market.
“We don’t have all of those details yet, because as the investigation is ongoing, that’s one of the questions we hope to be able to better explain, and we’ll bring that back to you when we have that,” Dr. Monica Bharel, the state’s public health commissioner, told reporters Wednesday.
Bharel said researchers have been performing “investigatory work” that includes interviewing patients and reviewing their records.
Federal authorities, meanwhile, said Wednesday that most of the mysterious illnesses nationwide linked to vaping THC, the psychoactive compound of marijuana, have been traced to the illicit market.
“For the lung injury outbreak, while the vast majority report using THC-containing pre-filled cartridges, they report getting them from informal sources or off the street, not necessarily from licensed dispensaries,” Anne Schuchat, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a House subcommittee.
Massachusetts officials have reported 29 cases of vaping-related illnesses to the CDC, and 20 of the cases have involved patients who vaped THC. Thirteen of those 20 patients said they used marijuana vaporizers only. The other seven reported using marijuana and nicotine vaporizers.
Of the 29 cases, 10 are confirmed and 19 are probable. The state has received 123 other reports of vaping-related illnesses since Sept. 11. Sixty have been ruled out as confirmed or probable vaping-related illnesses. Even in the cases that were ruled out, Bharel said, the patients were “still having some symptoms related to using the products.”
Some of the cases may have occurred before Sept. 11, when Bharel mandated that clinicians report suspected vaping illnesses to the state.
State investigators are using the CDC’s definition of “probable” and “confirmed” cases, employing chest X-rays, the patient’s symptoms, and the patient’s reported vaping behavior to determine whether vaping was a likely cause.
One person has died in Massachusetts from a vaping-related illness: a Hampshire County woman in her 60s . When officials announced her death in early October, they said initial reports indicated she had vaped nicotine. Across the country, at least 31 vaping-related deaths have been reported by state officials, 26 of which have been confirmed by the CDC.
In Massachusetts, vaping-related illnesses have affected people of all ages. Of the cases reported to the CDC, nine were under age 20, seven from 20 to 29, seven from 30 to 49, and six 50 or older.
Governor Charlie Baker last month instituted a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products. Bharel said the ban is “absolutely” still the right move.
“Right now, we do not know what is causing this,” Bharel said. “And the ban allows us a pause, so we can do these investigations and further understand and put in regulatory framework to protect all of us, and especially our youth.”Felicia Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.