MANCHESTER — City officials have shut down three convenience stores that allegedly sold the synthetic marijuana “spice” connected to at least 34 overdoses in the last few days.
Han’s Food Mart, 353 Maple St., Union Street Market, 621 Union St. and TN Convenience, 90 Bridge St., sold a brand called “Smacked” that city officials said is linked to the overdoses, according to Mayor Ted Gatsas.
The city closed the stores and revoked the businesses’ licenses “for conducting business activities which endanger the public health, welfare, and safety of local residents,” Gatsas said in a written statement.
Police Sgt. Brian O’Keefe said police do not know about all drug overdoses, even those involving heroin or cocaine, because of the confidentiality concerning medical records.
But since the overdoses began happening on Monday, O’Keefe said police have learned of 34 cases in which people overdosed on spice.
The synthetic marijuana is marketed as potpourri, labeled “not for human consumption” and sells for $10 a packet. Spice is a mixture of herbs and spices typically sprayed with a synthetic compound, chemically similar to THC, according to O’Keefe. However, law enforcement said people commonly smoke it as a way to get high.
The city declared a public health hazard on Tuesday. That same day, O’Keefe said officers went to all of the city’s 55 convenience stores to ensure the drug — packaged in brightly colored packets called “Smacked” — was off the shelves.
O’Keefe said investigators determined the bubblegum-flavored Spice was the one responsible for the overdoses.
The designer drug began showing up in Manchester in 2011. It became illegal in New Hampshire on Aug. 18, 2012, but continues to be sold because the chemical content is constantly changed by the manufacturers so that it falls within legal limits, O’Keefe said.
The series of overdoses began at 11:30 a.m. Monday when three unconscious people were found near the basketball courts at Pulaski Park, 125 Bridge St. All were in medical distress, unresponsive and lethargic, police said.
They were taken to a hospital for treatment. Later, about 4 p.m. another person was found in Victory Park suffering from similar symptoms and was taken to a hospital.
Police said a fifth person was found about 6:30 p.m. in Bronstein Park. The woman was unresponsive; information gathered at the scene indicated she may have ingested pice.
Ultimately, investigators learned from AMR ambulance that at least 15 or more people were taken to area hospitals in the previous 24 hours for treatment of overdoses believed related to spice.
This is not the first time the city has dealt with such overdoses.
In October 2012, five ambulances were sent to Manchester Central High School, where teens had overdosed on the synthetic marijuana.
Calls for help continued through Tuesday, according to police.
New Hampshire Union Leader staff reporter Ted Siefer contributed to this report.