Doctors, police and Sununu concerned about fentanyl in drugs: watch
CONCORD, NH – State and local police and health officials are concerned about the discovery of fentanyl mixed with other drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription drugs and marijuana, in New Hampshire and other states.
Gov. Chris Sununu, Dr. Nicholas Larochelle, Concord Hospital Emergency Department Medical Director, New Hampshire State Police Col. Nathan Noyes and others held a press conference Thursday to discuss of the issue by stating, repeatedly, that “a pill really could kill,” after an increase in reports of substance abuse being treated in hospitals and ambulances across New England and nationwide. police and health care workers have reported a number of cases where people have used both legal and illegal drugs and become ill or addicted to the fentanyl in the drugs.
Sununu said police, doctors, nurses and others see trouble every day. To raise awareness, the state will unveil a new marketing campaign.
“We want people to become very aggressive,” Sununu said, stressing that drugs should not be used and also prevent more possible poisonings and deaths.
The marketing effort will also educate residents about prevention and access to addiction programs.
Sununu said while he thought the effort would be good, the biggest problem is that it’s after the fact – when people are already addicted. He hoped to avoid some of these problems by spreading awareness.
The governor also recently met with his youth advisory council and they, too, raised concerns about drug awareness issues. Sununu said methamphetamine and fentanyl were problems at every high school in the state.
“It comes directly from them, from what is happening in their schools, flying under the radar of teachers and members of their communities,” he said. “The best solution to the drug crisis is prevention.”
The money will be invested in drug treatment beds and other efforts and not just in cities but also in small towns, he said.
Noyes, who Sununu said was on the front lines of this issue, said there was “concrete evidence” of an increase in fentanyl in other substances of up to 1,800% between 2014 and 2021, on the laboratory test basis. Fentanyl is more than 50 times more potent than heroin, and in 70% of drug sample cases, fentanyl is mixed, he said.
Some of the samples are in different colors, including pink and purple, with pills that look like real prescriptions for Adderall and other drugs. Noyes said buyers don’t always know what they’re getting, especially if they’re buying it on the black market.
“When these pills are produced, there is no quality control of the product,” he said of counterfeit drugs. “One pill might barely contain fentanyl while another might kill you.”
Noyes held up a bag containing 96 fentanyl pills masked as oxycodone, to prove his point.
Chris Stawasz, regional director for New Hampshire and Maine of American Medical Response, said paramedics on the ground are seeing an increase in overdoses and other medical episodes from fentanyl lacing. He called this a significant problem in the areas served by the company, including Manchester and Nashua. Stawasz also encouraged everyone to be in possession of Narcan, an overdose vaccine, which can revive people.
“To reiterate, there is no safe illicit drug,” he said. “A pill can kill.”
Larochelle said that over the past five years the medical professions have seen “a significant increase” in cases. “The higher potency of fentanyl” was causing serious problems, he said. Larochelle added that officials had seen “complications in young, otherwise healthy people” due to exposure to fentanyl.
Larochelle said there had been an increase of around 20% in treatment for substance use disorders in Concord and the Capital Region, which he said was fortunate.
“Prevention, treatment and harm reduction strategies,” Larochelle said, “continue to be central as we continue to address the opioid epidemic.”
During Q&A, Sununu was asked about legalizing marijuana as a possible solution.
In the three surrounding states of Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, marijuana is legal and sold like alcohol or cigarettes, in regulated and licensed dispensaries, so there is no fentanyl lacing. In New Hampshire, legalizing marijuana has historically been rejected by narrow margins despite the general public wanting it legal, according to some polls. Marijuana is decriminalized in small quantities.
However, Sununu disputed the concept calling him ignorant of the issue.
“The idea that legalizing marijuana will combat this problem is sheer ignorance,” Sununu said. “If that were the case, you wouldn’t find this problem in every other New England state that has already legalized it around us.”
Sununu also raised the issue of “black market” marijuana in places like Colorado as a possible danger that could come to New Hampshire if legalization occurs. He said the black market would increase the possibility of marijuana containing fentanyl.
However, while black market marijuana is a problem in Colorado, including a number of large grow operations and bankruptcies, there is no evidence that these sales are linked to fentanyl or lead to an increase in poisoning. fentanyl, according to news reports. In fact, almost all of the stories about fentanyl-containing drugs in Colorado were prescription pills and had no connection to marijuana.
Proponents also said the regulated marijuana market in Colorado locations allows for convenient and inexpensive sales for adults – so they don’t have to buy marijuana on the black market and are not exposed to fentanyl poisoning, if it existed. Most of the black market marijuana grown in Colorado is shipped elsewhere, meaning legalization played no role in the fentanyl poisoning. Black market sales are thriving in banned states, according to reports.
In Massachusetts, some reports noted that the legalization of marijuana seemed to put pot dealers out of business, meaning black market marijuana was not a problem. Marijuana mixed with fentanyl also doesn’t appear to be a problem in the state due to the lack of reporting on the issue – though there have been at least a few recent reports of black market vendors being arrested in the Bay State.
Asked what drug addicts or illegal addicts might do, Sununu suggested accessing fentanyl test strips for drugs before using them, which is readily available through prevention programs. But, he countered, “Again, best use is useless right now. It really is.”
Sununu said that while the marijuana legalization bills hadn’t reached his office, now was not the time to consider it, given all the lacing and fentanyl overdose issues. He noted that he was the governor who signed decriminalization and expanded medical marijuana legislation, policies he considered important. But today, people who use illegal drugs must be aware of the presence of fentanyl in all substances, because they do not know where the drugs come from.
“It’s a real problem,” he said.
Sununu also called for action at the federal level with southern border security with Mexico as well as action against China, where fentanyl originates. He said there was also money available at the state level for drug addicts seeking treatment.
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