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N.H. opioids come from as far away as China and Mexico 

  • New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is the co-sponsor of the STOP Act, which she said she’s hoping will give law enforcement more information to help combat the supply of illicit drugs coming into the U.S. AP



Monitor staff
Saturday, April 08, 2017

If you want to know how drugs are getting into New Hampshire, look no further than the cars zooming up and down the state’s highways including Interstate-93, I-91 and I-95.

“I wouldn’t give one more weight than the others. They’re (all) major corridors that are supplying the state,” said New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Mark Hall, who is part of the state’s drug interdiction unit.

Every day, quantities of drugs both large and small are transported into New Hampshire from other states in the Northeast, including Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.

But the path for the flow of deadly heroin and fentanyl starts thousands of miles away, in Chinese warehouses, and poppy fields and clandestine labs run by Mexican cartels.

As New Hampshire continues to suffer from the opioid epidemic, authorities are seeing more deadly fentanyl coming into the state.

The drugs coming into New Hampshire from eastern Massachusetts cities like Lawrence and Haverhill are now almost all deadly strains of fentanyl, according to police.

That synthetic drug, now blamed for two-thirds of the 478 fatal drug deaths in New Hampshire last year, is about 50 times more potent than heroin and more than 100 times more potent then morphine.

Just touching or inhaling two milligrams of fentanyl (for scale, that’s the size of two grains of salt) is enough to potentially kill a person.

Most of the fentanyl in the United States comes from China, according to a recent report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Though the Chinese government is starting to crack down on thousands of chemical and pharmaceutical facilities that manufacture synthetic opioids, drug makers in Mexico, Canada and the United States can simply order the drug online and receive shipments through the U.S. Postal Service.

“It’s almost like the Wild West. You can pretty much get what you order,” said Tom Ridge, former Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “It’s a global marketplace, it’s a global drug trade.”

Ridge, who is now an adviser for a coalition focusing on stopping the flow of drugs sent through the mail, said there are still a lot of questions on where exactly drugs are being shipped to and from.

“We’re focused on all countries,” he said. “Even if a country legitimately tries to eliminate the illicit production of fentanyl, it’s virtually impossible.”

That’s the goal of new bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate called the STOP Act.

Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan is one of the bill’s co-sponsors. She said that while private postal companies like UPS and FedEx are required to provide package tracking information, the United States Postal Service isn’t required to.

That’s what the STOP Act is trying to change, and Hassan said she’s hopeful it will give law enforcement more information to help combat the supply of illicit drugs.

“It’s really important that we’re working to combat and beat this epidemic on all fronts,” she said.

In a grid-locked Senate, Hassan said she’s hopeful that addiction is one of the things that Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

“I do think there is bipartisan support for attacking this problem from all angles,” Hassan said.

Regional activity

Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire are wholesale fentanyl seizure hotspots, according to a nationwide map of Drug Enforcement Administration seizures recorded from 2013 to 2015.

The two states had the highest number of fentanyl seizures and the largest quantities of drugs seized out of all New England states, according to the map.

Highways are the major drug corridors in New England, according to state police and federal drug enforcement agents.

However, the area of the state you live in determines where drugs come from, according to law enforcement.

The western side of the state bordering Vermont gets most of its heroin supply from New York City and Hartford, Conn., according to authorities. The drugs flow up through the Massachusetts cities of Springfield and Holyoke and into Vermont and small New Hampshire cities like Lebanon and Keene.

Southeastern New Hampshire, including Manchester, the Seacoast and northern cities, like Concord, see a flow of drugs that come up from eastern Massachusetts cities.

“New Hampshire being as small as it is, you wouldn’t think there would be different trends in different areas, but that is the case,” Sgt. Mark Hall said.

It’s an example of the drug territories held by different gangs in the Northeast.

Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel has a significant hold on the New England heroin market, with the Juarez cartel maintaining a Connecticut stronghold, the report shows.

Drugs enter the United States from Mexico by a variety of methods including car, boat, train, bus and unmanned drones, according to the DEA report.

You can see the difference in the quantities of drugs that are coming into the state, he added.

Busts on the western side of New Hampshire are more likely to yield neatly portioned wax paper folds with a small amounts of heroin inside. On I-93 and I-95, police are seeing drugs shipped in bulk finger quantities, usually containing several hundred doses.

“You think about that, that’s a lot of fentanyl in one finger,” Hall said.

In addition to the opioids flooding in, police across the state are starting to see a rise in other drugs.

Methamphetamine has taken over as the predominant drug in Concord and is starting to take a foothold in other parts of the state as well, according to local and state police.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of meth, probably over the last year,” Hall said, adding, “we’re seeing larger amounts of cocaine.”

Cartels are more than happy to feed the tremendous demand for drugs in New England.

“They see the crisis that we’re going through right now in the Northeast, and they’re certainly capitalizing on that and bringing more and more supply up here,” Hall said. “They know that they can make money. It’s all about the money and the greed.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com
or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)