MANCHESTER — The number of people who have overdosed on synthetic marijuana – sold in corner stores across the city – since Monday has climbed to 34, and Manchester police say there could have been more.
Sgt. Brian O'Keefe explained because of the confidentiality concerning medical records, police do not know about all drug overdoses, even if it involves heroin or cocaine.
But since the overdoses began happening on Monday, O'Keefe said they've learned of 34 cases where people overdosed on the synthetic marijuana known as "Spice" or "K2."
The city declared a public health hazard on Tuesday and the 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.
The synthetic marijuana is marketed as potpourri, labeled "not for human consumption" and sells for $10 a packet.
O'Keefe said police found only one store with the drug called "Smacked" and the owner readily turned the packets over to officers.
O'Keefe said 42 packets, which come in bubblegum, lemon lime and blueberry flavors, were recovered from that store; 13 were bubblegum flavored.
He said investigators determined the bubblegum-flavored Spice was the one responsible for the overdoses.
Spice is a legal product that is sold as a form of incense, but is not intended for human consumption.
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, many in China, so that it falls within legal limits, O'Keefe explained.
The series of overdoses began at 11:30 a.m. Monday when three unconscious individuals were found near the basketball courts at Pulaski Park, 125 Bridge St. All were in medical distress, unresponsive and very lethargic.
They immediately were taken to the hospital for treatment of apparent overdoses.
Later, about 4 p.m. another person was found in Victory Park suffering from similar symptoms and was transported to the hospital.
A fifth person was found about 6:30 p.m. in Bronstein Park. The woman was unresponsive and information gathered at the scene indicated she may have ingested Spice, resulting in her overdosing.
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.
Calls for help continued through Tuesday, according to police.
Spice is a mixture of herbs and spices that is 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.
Police asked convenience store owners to clear the product from shelves and then officers were sent out to ensure it was not still being sold.
This is not the first time the city has dealt with "Spice" overdoses. In October 2012, five ambulances were sent to Manchester Central High School where teens had overdosed on it.