The Bulletin Board

State officials warn of increase in non-opioid drugs laced with fentanyl

By: - June 30, 2022 3:59 pm

State Police Col. Nathan Noyes shows a series of pills that the state says were laced with fentanyl, as officials warn of the rise of fentanyl hidden in black market drugs. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

State officials are warning the public about the risk of fentanyl-laced drugs amid evidence that New Hampshire has seen an uptick in overdoses this year.

At a press conference outside Concord Hospital Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu, Commissioner Bob Quinn of the New Hampshire Department of Safety, and a panel of medical professionals said those increases in overdoses and overdose deaths may be a result of drugs that are more potent than realized. 

“It’s rare to see heroin by itself,” State Police Col. Nathan Noyes said. “When we do see heroin, it is routinely mixed with fentanyl. And while fentanyl can be found as the sole drug in some samples, approximately 70 percent of the time it is mixed with other drugs. … We’re seeing fentanyl mixed with everything, including counterfeit pills.” 

Overdoses in Manchester and Nashua appear to be ticking up this year after a relative lull since a peak in 2015, according to data collected by American Medical Response, Inc., a national medical transportation company. Nashua has seen a particular spike: AMR has recorded 26 overdose deaths so far this year. That means the city has nearly matched the total number of overdose deaths last year, 30. 

Based on the numbers so far, both Manchester and Nashua are heading toward 60 overdose deaths by the end of the year, AMR projects. 

Chris Stawasz, Northeast regional director of government affairs for AMR, said first responders are seeing an increase in the presence of fentanyl in drugs seemingly unrelated to opioids, such as cocaine. Many who are saved from overdoses are in disbelief that they had an overdose, he said. 

“Mid-year last year, we began to see people who were denying … that they used an opioid,” he said in an interview. But it came to the point where it was becoming more commonplace and their spouse or their significant other, the person with them would say to us: ‘Listen, this person, he is not using opioids. He’s using cocaine. That’s what he used. He doesn’t use anything else.”

“Yet they were unresponsive,” Stawasz continued. “They responded to Narcan. So clearly there was an opioid involved in whatever they were taking.” 

Sununu noted that New Hampshire has so far defied trends in other states of dramatic spikes in overdoses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Granite State used to have one of the top three overdose death rates in the country, the state has now fallen to 22nd, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Hampshire sees 30.1 overdose deaths per 100,000 people; West Virginia, the state with the highest rate, experiences 81.4. 

Sununu and state officials said the apparent rise in fentanyl is another reason New Hampshire residents should think before trusting any source for any drug that isn’t prescribed. 

“Clearly our system is working,” Sununu said. “We need to stay ahead of this. We really do. We’ve got to stay aggressive.”

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.