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Hassan declares state of emergency amid synthetic pot overdoses

This  Feb. 15, 2010, photo shows a package of K2 which contains herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. State lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas have introduced bills which would create penalties for K2 possession similar to those for marijuana.(AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

This Feb. 15, 2010, photo shows a package of K2 which contains herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. State lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas have introduced bills which would create penalties for K2 possession similar to those for marijuana.(AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

Gov. Maggie Hassan moved to stem the sale of synthetic marijuana yesterday, declaring a state of emergency one day after authorities in Manchester and Concord reported a surge in nonfatal overdoses from the drug, also known as spice.

The governor said in a joint statement that she had directed state health officials to locate and remove a specific brand of the drug called “Smacked!” from store shelves. Police officials have pinpointed the brand’s bubble gum variety as the common link among the overdoses.

“These products pose a serious threat to public health, especially to young people, and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to combat the recent rash of overdoses,” the governor said.

The Manchester police said they have responded to 41 cases of overdose or overdoselike symptoms since Monday. The Concord police reported two overdoses Tuesday and one Wednesday morning. None were reported in Concord yesterday.

The governor’s office said the three-week declaration authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to “investigate, isolate or quarantine and require the destruction” of any Smacked product, with a particular focus on the bubble gum flavor.

Spice is marketed as incense and not for human consumption. But officials say the product – a mixture of herbs and spices sprayed with chemical additives – is often smoked, yielding a high similar to marijuana. The effects, however, can lead to paranoia, panic attacks, hallucination, numbness, vomiting and seizures.

The drug is difficult to track because manufacturers constantly change its formula as regulations change.

Police officials said the victims have displayed similar symptoms: lethargic, nonresponsive, dipping in and out of consciousness.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas said in yesterday’s statement: “We strongly recommend the public avoid any use of this product, and we will work with local police departments as quickly as possible to put the quarantine into effect.”

Attorney General Joe Foster added, “Retailers that continue to knowingly sell these dangerous or illegal products are placed on notice that they could be held responsible for harm caused to a user of the product.”

Concord officials recently conducted an undercover sweep of the city and said they were unable to locate any stores that sell the drug. They said they have heard it is still available in some surrounding communities, including Epsom.

The governor said two other spice brands, “Crazy Monkey” and “Green Giant,” have tested positive for controlled substances and are illegal to sell or consume under state law. Neither of these brands are believed to be linked to the recent overdoses.

Some communities, including Keene, Belmont, Franklin and Tilton, have already banned sale or consumption of the drug.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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