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Crystal meth re-emerging as drug threat

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 17. 2018 10:02PM
The Residences at Daniel Webster on Daniel Webster Highway in Merrimack on Friday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD - As fatal overdoses from opioids still dominate in New Hampshire, police and policy makers warn that a pure and cheaper form of mass-produced methamphetamine is emerging as the next big threat with alarming consequences.

Fentanyl, the opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, is the cause of New Hampshire's spike in overdoses over the past two years, but law enforcement officials say more and more users are turning to crystal meth, chasing a consistent high that is rarely fatal.

Here's a thumbnail sketch of this growing concern:

• At year's end, admissions for opioid and crack cocaine treatment were declining by 30 percent, while admissions for meth treatment were up 3 percent.

• The state crime lab tested 830 samples from meth-related arrests in 2017 compared to just 50 three years ago.

• Fentanyl killed 300 users in New Hampshire last year while 10 died from a meth-related overdose.

David Mara, the state's drug czar, said fighting crystal meth use is taxing for law enforcement.

"We have to be getting ready for this expansion of meth with both a law enforcement and a treatment response," Mara said during an interview. "It's not leading to fatalities, but we are seeing a growing number of ancillary crimes that are occurring by these users."

During a recent seminar, Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein said meth has taken hold in the Lakes Region.

"Franklin, Belmont and Laconia are the meth triangle of New Hampshire," he said.

"Every time I look at reports ... every report has meth. It's coming back, folks, whether we like it or not."

And Goldstein knows this is not the meth problem that spiked a decade ago.

That was the "Breaking Bad" phenomenon - where homemade meth labs started popping up in basements or garages. These Walter White wannabes would often cook with one-pot kits or "mobile labs" in which ingredients are mixed and cooked in a large soda bottle or similar container.

Those still occur as Littleton police found last week when they uncovered an alleged meth lab operating out of one of the Crane Street Court Apartments. They arrested and charged a 43-year-old local woman with operating it.

Targeting small town sales

What is more common are large street-level sales of crystal meth produced by the drug cartels and brought into New Hampshire for widespread use.

Last October, Laconia police with the FBI Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force arrested Peter Daupin, 45, and charged him with distributing meth. A search of his house found nearly $10,000 in cash and 8 ounces of crystal meth in the drop ceiling of the master bedroom with a street value of $44,000.

Daupin is about to graduate from a drug treatment program and has asked to postpone at least one of his pending trials as he considers a plea deal.

In Merrimack, Police Chief Denise Roy won approval to create a special unit to tackle the problem, with one drug informant referring to the town as "meth heaven" because widespread sales were taking place at some local hotels.

"We are putting a Band-Aid on it, but it is not working. ... We are becoming that town that we never wanted to be," Roy said last month.

"What you see on TV, it is here - it is in Merrimack."

In 2015, Roy said there were 63 calls for emergency service at the Residences at Daniel Webster; that number shot up to 163 calls in 2017. This is not the fault of hotel management, Roy stressed.

Distributors have simply migrated to Merrimack, she said, as police in Nashua and Manchester cracked down on the use of their inns as meth-selling headquarters.

"We are seeing this pop up in a lot of different communities, not only the small rural towns but in many suburbs and particularly along our southern border with departments that are less equipped to deal with it," Mara said.

Violent crimes on the rise

State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, serves on the Legislature's opioid commission and he said police officials are warning that as meth use grows, other crimes rise as well, such as burglary and assault.

"What we are hearing from law enforcement folks is that these meth users are becoming more and more violent," Feltes said.

While heroin and fentanyl are depressants, meth is a stimulant that gives the user a burst of energy and can lead to more aggressive behavior.

"We are seeing property and even violent crimes committed by these meth users as they will do anything they can to get money to feed their habit," said Mara, former police chief in Manchester and Portsmouth.

It can also have a ruinous effect on a user's teeth and skin, with lesions a common byproduct of using crystal meth.

Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan said recently his city is seeing a growing number using multiple drugs - fentanyl in combination with meth or crack cocaine.

In December, Manchester police arrested Shawn Varney, no fixed address, at an Elm Street residence and a search found 33 grams of meth and 50 grams of heroin or fentanyl in his possession. He was charged with intent to sell both.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials said the cartels are marketing fentanyl or heroin cut with meth to some of their customers and crystal meth to others as a safer alternative to opioids.

Unlike opioids, however, meth has no quick antidote for an overdose such as Narcan, and there is no substitute medication like methadone that is used by those trying to kick a heroin or fentanyl habit.

"As we get a handle on these overdoses from heroin and fentanyl, this crystal meth explosion could be our next public health emergency," Feltes added.

Sunday News correspondents Bea Lewis and Kimberly Houghton contributed to this report.

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