Last week, the Oregon Health Authority opened an investigation into the state's first death related to vaping. On Thursday, state health officials confirmed that the person had bought products from two licensed cannabis retailers in the state prior to falling ill.
Health officials say the two stores, to the OHA's knowledge, are still operating—which means they could still be selling potentially fatal products. The OHA says they do not know what products were purchased at the stores.
But they won't tell the public the names of those two stores.
OHA physician Tom Jeanne, M.D., says he suspects the two cannabis stores are currently open.
"I would suspect that they are still operating, there's nothing that I've heard that says they've not been," says Jeanne. "We're trying to get these specific products and have those tested rather than focus on the stores where they were purchased."
Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the OHA, says just because the person bought products from these two stores doesn't mean it was necessarily the stores' products that killed the person.
"It doesn't necessarily mean the individual got sick from products that they had purchased at these dispensaries, we just know that the individual shopped at a couple of dispensaries prior to getting ill," says Modie. "We're still waiting to get samples of the products and then we send that off for testing."
When WW asked if it wouldn't be better to shut down a store that potentially sold a lethal product to a customer, Modie replied, "How do you think the dispensary operator would feel if it turned out that the product wasn't theirs?"
"We wouldn't want to name or point to a specific dispensary before we have all of the information that says unequivocally that that was the dispensary where the product was sold that made the individual sick," says Modie.
Modie says the person could have gone to other stores they aren't aware of, tampered with the product, or added substances after purchase.
Jeanne says OHA is only aware of one case in the state so far, which was the death.
According to the OHA, a call involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 6 confirmed that over 450 similar cases from 33 states of patients presenting with the mysterious lung disease have been reported.
Most of those cases have been linked to patients who have vaped marijuana products. Much of the governmental focus has narrowed in the past few days to a prime suspect: the cannabis oil used in vapes.
At least one conclusive link has been confirmed, according to federal officials: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that five patients this past summer in North Carolina came down with the lung illness after inhaling oils containing marijuana through "illicit vaping products," according to The Oregonian. Doctors pointed to oil build-up in the lungs being responsible for the five cases.
The last few days have drummed up theories that a chemical called Vitamin E acetate might be a cause of the illnesses. The chemical was found in many of the cases reported to the CDC. When heated to high temperatures, this chemical can vaporize. Once it's breathed into the lungs, it can then cool down to its original liquid state.
But just because the chemical was found in some of the products being tested from various cases, Jeanne says, doesn't mean this is conclusive evidence that this product is to blame.
"Just because they found it in some of these products doesn't mean that's the cause—it's just one of the first suspects that we're looking at," says Jeanne. "And that's why we need more products submitted for testing, to really look at the numbers and do further analysis to see if that could be it."
The OHA says it is working alongside the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to send the products used by the deceased person, who died in July, to the FDA for testing.
"If and when we get any product specimens from this case or any future cases we have, we are sending those as quickly as we can to the FDA for testing," says Jeanne.
The OHA says that the OLCC is dealing with the two stores where the Oregon victim bought products, but OLCC spokesperson Mark Pettinger told WW in an email that it is "limited in what it can share because of the medical confidentiality affecting this case."
Pettinger wrote that the OHA is heading up the case, and his agency is supporting OHA.
"Therefore it's at OHA's discretion to decide what if any information to release regarding the victim, and the details about any product potentially linked to an OLCC licensed retailer, including the product type and brand, where and when it was purchased, and any official communication with dispensaries," wrote Pettinger.
Jeanne says that they are also unwilling to share more information because no one product has been isolated as the cause for the illness, and the investigation "obligates" them to not jump to conclusions.
"And for the public, if we released information that later turned out not to be true, that would just lead to confusion and misunderstanding about what the true causes when it's finally identified," says Jeanne. "We're not going to make any conclusions on a particular dispensary, business or product."
When pressed by WW to share the names of the stores where the products were sold to the deceased person, Modie reiterated the same message: "Sorry to tell you, we're just not going to share that information at this time."
Image Source: Courtesy of Vaping 360