Concord police say meth is making an alarming spike in the city

Last modified: 7/14/2015 8:38:32 PM
Concord is experiencing an unusual and alarming spike in methamphetamine, according to authorities, who warn that some users appear to be mixing the drug with heroin or other opiates, creating a potentially deadly cocktail.

Since January, undercover police officers have made at least 19 separate purchases of the illegal narcotic, said Sgt. Marc McGonagle, with the Concord police’s drug unit. Before that, he said, it was virtually nonexistent. Between 2003 and 2007, for instance, he said the unit made one undercover meth buy.

“I find it interesting and concerning,” McGonagle said. “Is it going to take hold? I don’t know.”

Law enforcement in surrounding communities, including Manchester, an epicenter in the state’s ongoing opiate crisis, have not reported a similar surge. Lt. Brian O’Keefe of the Manchester police said they have had fewer than five meth cases in the last six months – compared with more than 400 opiate-related overdose calls. State prosecutors and police chiefs in Gilford and Franklin gave similar accounts.

But others, including Jacqui Abikoff, who heads Horizons Counseling in Gilford and who chairs the New Hampshire Board of Licensing for Alcohol and Drug Use Professionals, noted a pronounced uptick. Abikoff, who works twice weekly with inmates at the Belknap County jail, said many have reported persistent meth use over the past four months.

“We have definitely seen a significant increase in the clients seeking treatment who have been using meth,” she said, adding, “It wasn’t that long ago that it was no one.”

Abikoff said some have disclosed using the drug, an extremely addictive stimulant, before or after heroin, to offset its depressant effects. Others, she said, have reported mixing the two together, creating a modified “speedball,” which is traditionally made with cocaine and heroin.

Heroin remains the primary concern in Concord, as in other parts of the state. The Concord police have recorded 42 opiate-related overdoses through June, including four that resulted in death, which has it on track to match last year’s numbers, Lt. Tim O’Malley said.

Still, the meth numbers have authorities worried. At a public forum last Thursday on addiction recovery, Concord police Chief Brad Osgood directly referenced the spike, describing it as an emerging threat.

McGonagle was unable to explain the spike. He said most of the buys have involved people in their 30s and older. Meth is expensive, he noted, selling for upwards of $180 per gram on the street. Heroin and cocaine, by comparison, are each going for about $90 per gram.

McGonagle said the drug is probably coming from local sources, people who are cooking it in one-pot batches using over-the-counter ingredients like pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medicines. That’s in stark contrast to other parts of the country, where meth is more common and is often distributed by large-scale producers using industrial chemicals.

While New Hampshire has mostly avoided the meth crisis, many have wondered whether it might eventually make its way here. Ten years ago, Abikoff said, the state created a caucus to study ways to curb its production, and legislators passed a series of laws targeting manufacturers.

Meth has still occasionally surfaced, as evidenced in December 2013, when police raided two Northfield apartments where occupants were cooking it.

The drug is well-suited for rural areas, Abikoff said, as it can be cooked in small enough batches to avoid detection.

Chronic meth use has been linked to reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning, and can cause extreme weight loss, severe dental problems and skin sores from repeated scratching, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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

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