Students sickened by using fake pot
MANCHESTER - Five ambulances were called to Manchester High School Central this week for students suffering drug-use symptoms.
And Friday morning, Manchester police arrested a man in nearby Bronstein park after they spotted him lighting and smoking what was believed to be synthetic marijuana and passing it around to four juveniles, all about 15 years old.
Police believe the cigarette was the synthetic drug K2 - fake marijuana. Police said they charged the man with possession of a suspected controlled drug after finding a packet of suspected K2 on him.
All of the juveniles are students at Central and two of them were issued summonses for possession of tobacco, while one had a packet of the suspected K2, police said.
The four students in the park Friday morning received medical care and their parents were notified.
Police Sgt. Craig Rousseau said an ambulance was called to the high school later in the morning for a reported overdose and he believes that involved a student and K2 as well.
Rousseau said one of two students taken to the hospital from the school earlier this week had an elevated heart rate and stroke-like symptoms after using the designer drug and several others needed medical care.
The man who passed around the cigarette in the park Friday morning initially told police his name was 'Joe Bernile' and said he was homeless, but he was later identified through fingerprints as Andrew Worster, 20, of 36 School St.
Worster was released on a summons to appear for arraignment on Nov. 15 in 9th Circuit Court, Manchester District Division.
Rousseau said the suspected K2 packets will be sent to the state laboratory for testing. 'K2', also known as 'Spice,' became illegal in New Hampshire on Aug. 18, but Rousseau said it is still being sold in the city and some people, including some students, believe it is still legal.
Rousseau said the synthetic drug is sold in shiny, little packages with cartoon characters on them. One of the packets seized recently had the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland on it, he said.
Police usually will not arrest someone for possessing K2 until after the substance seized is tested at the state laboratory. Rousseau said that's because manufacturers frequently change its formula so that the substance falls within legal limits.
The designer drug began showing up in Manchester about a year ago and is usually sold as incense at small variety stores, he said.
Police Detective Kimberly Barbee, the school resource officer at Central, said there are several physical symptoms that parents should be aware of when they suspect K2 abuse. These include vomiting, elevated heartbeat and blood pressure, pale complexion, sweating, slurred speech, anxiety and potentially aggressive behavior.
School Superintendent Thomas Brennan said Friday afternoon that he had just learned about the five ambulance calls to Central this week. He said he was not aware of a problem in other schools, but the fact that some of the symptoms can be explained as those of illnesses may have masked problems elsewhere.
Brennan said an alert was going out to all schools and school personnel and a letter from the superintendent was put on the school district website Friday, along with links to articles with more information about the drug. In addition, he said: 'We're doing a lot of research on our own.'
Brennan said: 'The biggest thing is getting the word out, alerting parents. We're going to organize parent awareness nights with staff.' Brennan is also hoping to enlist the help of Parent-Teacher Organizations.
He said he is reminded of the popularity of LSD on stamps and other pieces of paper about a dozen years ago.
A nationwide synthetic designer drug investigation in July by the DEA and other federal agencies resulted in the seizure of $36 million in cash from searches in 109 communities, including a home in Gilford and stores in Salem and Somersworth.
Among the drugs seized were 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids - K2 or Spice. K2 is actually plant materials coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, according to federal authorities.
Staff reporter Dale Vincent contributed to this report.