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Friday, August 15, 2014

Hassan declares state of emergency following overdoses of synthetic marijuana product called ‘Smacked!’

CONCORD – The number of overdoses caused by a particular brand of synthetic marijuana – or spice – prompted Gov. Maggie Hassan to declare a state of emergency Thursday afternoon.

The declaration comes after nearly 50 overdoses in Manchester and Concord this week, the bulk of those occurring in Manchester. ...

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CONCORD – The number of overdoses caused by a particular brand of synthetic marijuana – or spice – prompted Gov. Maggie Hassan to declare a state of emergency Thursday afternoon.

The declaration comes after nearly 50 overdoses in Manchester and Concord this week, the bulk of those occurring in Manchester.

Meanwhile in Nashua, police have asked all stores to stop selling any form of synthetic marijuana, inlcuding those linked to the recent overdoses.

The state of emergency grants additional powers to the state Department of Health and Human Services to “investigate, isolate or quarantine and require the destruction of” the manmade drugs. HHS will be working with police to fine and quarantine bubblegum-flavored packages of Smacked!, which has been blamed for the rash of overdoses, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

“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.

Manchester police and health officials have responded to 41 people having serious medical episodes after using the drug, including 20 who had to be transported to a hospital since Monday. Officials in Concord responded to three cases in the last day, Hassan said.

The state of emergency will last three weeks and can be extended if necessary, Hassan said.

Nashua police have asked stores that carry any form of synthetic marijuana to “cease all sales and remove these items from your store shelves immediately,” and want people in Nashua to report any store that may be selling the products.

Nashua police said they are actively checking stores in the city for the “Smacked” brand of synthetic marijuana.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas convened a meeting of police and city officials Wednesday to discuss the overdoses, none of which have been fatal. Also on Wednesday, health officials in Manchester shut down three stores found to be selling the product.

Spice – synthetic cannaboids – are engineered substances similar to the active ingredient in marijuana. They are often labeled as incense or bath salts and sold in convenience stores, but are known by drug users to create a high when smoked or brewed into tea.

Attorney General Joseph Foster, a Nashua resident, encouraged store owners to remove Smacked! or any similar product from their shelves.

“As we have seen in recent days in Manchester and Concord, the misuse of products like Smacked! can cause significant and adverse health risks,” he said. “ ... 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.”

Spice – also called K2 – has been a difficult substance to legislate because tiny changes to the chemical makeup can render laws moot. In 2012, the U.S. Congress added 26 new substances to the Controlled Drug Substance Act hoping to make the substance harder to manufacture.

The same year Nashua police made a concerted effort to rid city convenience stores of the drugs and said at the time that the owners of all of the city’s 55 independently-owned convenience stores agreed to stop selling it.

Police repeated their request Thursday night.

“Even though the Governor’s order is specific to ‘Smacked,’ the Nashua Police Department would remind store owners that many of the synthetic marijuana as well as the ‘bath salt’ products are continuously proven unsafe for human consumption and would request all stores and markets within Nashua to stop selling any of these products and remove them from store shelves,” police said. “Store owners should also be aware that if they are found to be selling any federally banned substances they will be prosecuted.”

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).