A third person has died from a vaping-related illness in Massachusetts — one of dozens who have died nationwide from the still-unexplained sicknesses.
The person — a man in his 50s from Worcester County — reportedly vaped both nicotine and THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. He is among more than 200 cases of suspected vaping illnesses that have been reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
DPH officials have reported 68 of those cases to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of them have been under the age of 30.
It’s still a mystery what exactly in vaporizers has been causing the illnesses.
Many in the vaping industry have pointed fingers at illicit retailers, saying the lack of testing and regulations on their products is to blame. CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat told a House subcommittee last month that in the “vast majority” of cases, people report getting their vape cartridges “from informal sources or off the street, not necessarily from licensed dispensaries.”
But in Massachusetts, officials have been reluctant to say how many illnesses appear to be caused by legal vaping products versus illicit ones — and they’re encouraging people to stop using vapes altogether.
“My condolences go out to the family of this patient who has died from a vaping-associated lung injury,’’ Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement. “This disease is serious and potentially fatal and we are continuing to investigate the cause.”
About 25 percent of cases reported to the CDC from Massachusetts have been consumers who vaped both nicotine and THC products. About 31 percent of people said they vaped nicotine only, and about 38 percent said they vaped THC only.
A handful of people — less than five, according to state health officials — said they vaped CBD products.
Nationwide, the CDC said that as of Oct. 29, at least 37 people have died from vaping-related illnesses from 24 different states. At least three additional deaths have been reported by state health officials since that data was collected: two in Massachusetts and one in Illinois.
At least 1,888 confirmed and probable cases of vaping-related illnesses have been reported to federal officials from 49 states, Washington, D.C., and the US Virgin Islands. Only Alaska has not reported any vaping-related illnesses.
In Massachusetts, amid the reports of vaping illnesses, Governor Charlie Baker temporarily banned the sale of all vaping products on Sept. 24, drawing backlash from many consumers, experts, patients, and those in the cannabis industry.
A state judge chipped away at one piece of that ban Tuesday, ruling that the Cannabis Control Commission — and not Baker — has the authority to oversee products in the medical marijuana industry. The ban on selling medical marijuana vape products will be lifted Tuesday, unless the cannabis commission votes to keep it in place before them.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear arguments on the validity of Baker’s ban during its December sitting.
Baker said Wednesday that the most important thing is for federal and state officials to drill down into answers on what’s driving the illnesses.
“Certainly one of them is related to this idea of black market THC products. But that is not the only thing that has either injured people or led to their death,” he said. “For me, the whole thing is terribly troubling because we haven’t been able to secure an answer from any of these state and federal agencies that are looking into this yet that makes it possible for us to say to the public, ‘This is the answer. Don’t do this.’ ”
Baker said his hope is to get clarity soon but demurred when asked if he’d seek a more permanent ban if officials are unable to do so.
“I’m really kind of hoping that at some point over the course of the next few weeks we’re going to get some answers. . . ” he said. “There are definitely pieces of this that are starting to come together. . . but I still think we have a ways to go on that.”