CONCORD — The state is facing an increased volume of deadly fentanyl sold on the street and mixed with drugs ranging from anti-anxiety and pain medications to bodybuilding supplements, Gov. Chris Sununu warned Thursday.
The state plans to start a more aggressive marketing campaign aimed at alerting parents and addicted users to this heightened threat, he said.
“We are on the precipice of a transition in the war on drugs,” Sununu said, flanked by law enforcement executives and health care professionals outside the Emergency Department of Concord Hospital.
“We are seeing a whole new mix and integration of very deadly drugs … there is no safe experience.”
State Police Col. Nathan Noyes said the number of confirmed fentanyl samples identified at the state crime lab has increased 1,800% since 2014.
“The safest, simplest and strongest message from State Police is do not take anything that is not prescribed to you,” Noyes said.
Chris Stawasz, regional director of American Medical Response, said drug overdoses this year in the state’s two largest cities are the highest they have been since 2017.
“We expect to see by the end of the year 1,000 overdoses, just from the cities of Manchester and Nashua,” Stawasz said.
Nicholas Larochelle, Concord Hospital emergency department’s medical director, said the hospital has seen a 20% increase in referrals of patients to anti-substance abuse programs in the past year.
All over the state
Sununu said the problem is not limited to urban areas.
“This is not a city issue,” Sununu said. “It is happening from Pittsburg to Nashua and from Portsmouth to Hinsdale,” Sununu said.
Most parents in the state are unaware of this growing problem, he said.
“There is not a single high school that does not have methamphetamine and fentanyl in it. If you think that is not the case, you are wrong,” Sununu said.
All 50 states are dealing with this crisis, and Sununu said officials in other states have reported fentanyl in drugs as varied as cocaine, Xanax, Adderall, vaping products and marijuana.
Noyes showed reporters a packet containing 96 pills of the painkiller OxyContin laced with fentanyl.
“It is in everything,” Sununu said.
David Mara, the state’s drug czar, said New Hampshire has had “no confirmed cases” of fentanyl in marijuana.
Sununu resisted the suggestion that legalizing marijuana would lessen the risk of getting pot laced with fentanyl.
“The idea the legalization of marijuana would combat this problem is pure ignorance,” Sununu said. “The data says just the opposite.”
Incidents of dangerous marijuana sold on the black market in Colorado were “through the roof,” he said.
Colorado is one of 19 states where recreational marijuana use is legal.
When Sununu took office in 2017, New Hampshire had the second-most opioid deaths per capita in the country.
Currently the state ranks 23rd, but Sununu said the Granite State’s numbers are now heading in the wrong direction.
“For the first time in four or five years we are seeing an uptick,” Sununu said. “We’re still doing better than most states, but we can’t be complacent.”
A previous marketing campaign focused on the dangers of overprescribing pain medication and the need for people to get rid of unused pills in their medicine cabinets.
“We need to evolve the message to let people know that fentanyl doesn’t look like fentanyl anymore,” Sununu said.
“This is cartel-driven stuff,” he said. “It is not demand-driven.”