NH governor declares state of emergency as drug overdoses spiral

Posted Aug. 15, 2014, at 6:21 a.m.

CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan on Thursday declared a state of emergency after recent overdoses in Manchester and Concord from a type of synthetic marijuana.

The declaration empowers the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to investigate, isolate or quarantine and require the destruction of the substance. The agency will work closely with local police departments to quarantine the “bubblegum flavor” of “Smacked!” in all 10 Granite State counties, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Since Monday, the Manchester Police Department and local health authorities reported at least 41 people in the Manchester area have had serious medical reactions to the synthetic marijuana and at least 20 were taken by ambulance to Manchester hospitals for treatment. In addition, the Concord Police Department has reported at least three cases in the past 24 hours.

“These products pose a serious threat to public health, especially to young people, and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to combat the recent rash of overdoses,” Hassan said.

“In consultation with the New Hampshire Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, public health officials in the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General’s Office, I have declared a state of emergency so that we can move quickly to stop the sale of this dangerous substance that has caused an outbreak of serious overdoses.”

While not related to overdoses at this time, samples of at least two other brands of synthetic marijuana, “Crazy Monkey” and “Green Giant,” have tested positive for controlled substances. Store owners are reminded that it is illegal to sell or consume these controlled substances under New Hampshire law.

Generally referred to as “spice,” these are chemically engineered substances similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. While they are labeled as not for human consumption, “herbal incense” products of this type are known to be ingested by smoking or brewing into a tea because they contain synthetic cannabinoids.

Keene banned the sale of synthetic drugs in local stores in summer 2013. The drugs are legally sold in New Hampshire stores as “herbal incense,” often in brightly colored packages with catchy names that invoke the most potent strains of real marijuana, such as “Purple Sticky,” “Wild Berry,” “K2″ and “Black Mamba.”

“It’s very important that individuals be made aware that use of this product poses serious and immediate danger to their personal health,” New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas said. “We strongly recommend the public avoid any use of this product, and we will work with local police departments as quickly as possible to put the quarantine into effect.”

Attorney General Joseph Foster said, “As we have seen in recent days in Manchester and Concord, the misuse of products like ‘Smacked!’ can cause significant and adverse health risks. Therefore, we are strongly recommending that merchants who have similar products remove them from their shelves and destroy their current inventory. Retailers that continue to knowingly sell these dangerous or illegal products are placed on notice that they could be held responsible for harm caused to a user of the product.”

The governor’s declaration will last 21 days unless terminated earlier or extended by further order.

In May, agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated several hundred items of merchandise from Phat Stuff, a head shop on Keene’s Main Street. No charges have been filed against the store.

The DEA conducted multiple raids on similar stores throughout the country the same day as part of an operation dubbed “Project Synergy.”

That effort targeted alleged manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic drugs in more than two dozen states.

 

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