Crystal meth is on the rise in New Hampshire, entering the state through main highways like Interstate 95, but Seacoast police say use of the drug does not appear to be increasing at the same rate in their cities and towns.
State Police Lt. John Hennessey said “exponentially” more meth has been discovered in traffic stops on I-95 and other highways the last two years. The state crime lab, which receives all drugs collected by police in investigations, saw meth cases rise from 52 in 2014 to 182 in 2015, 404 in 2016 and 834 in 2017. There were 522 meth cases this year through July 31.
Still, local departments like in Portsmouth and Hampton say the opioid fentanyl has remained the most prominently used illicit narcotic and the number of meth cases remains consistent now with those from past years.
Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Merner said his investigators make meth arrests on occasion but have not seen a steady increase seen in places like the Lakes Region. Hampton Police Chief Richard Sawyer said his department has not worked a meth case this year, and he believes the prominence of fentanyl use observed is not being slowed by the availability of meth.
“If the supply… gets knocked down and is dented by law enforcement and other factors, people will switch to something else,” Sawyer said. “I suspect that we’re not seeing any dramatic decline in the number of people that are overdosing (on opioids) now.”
Parts of New Hampshire including the Lakes Region and parts of Strafford County have observed an increase.
Dean Lemire, an assistant project director for the Statewide Peer Recovery Support Services Facilitating Organization at Harbor Homes, said meth’s presence has risen dramatically among those with addiction in Strafford County. He said the drug had a presence there before fentanyl became more widely used, but the past two years have seen meth increase significantly, including intravenous use.
Maine has also seen a spate of meth cases recently, according to published reports. Maine State Police on Thursday responded to a home in Hollis in York County for a reported drug overdose and found a methamphetamine lab inside the residence. Troopers there found eight active meth labs in the bust, as well as 25 used labs.
Officials say the statewide rise of meth, a drug police say has always been less prominent in New England, has not come close to bringing New Hampshire in line with states in the south and west where the drug is more rampant. Fentanyl cases have also remained at least twice as common in New Hampshire as meth with the state lab having analyzed fentanyl in 2,202 cases last year and 1,113 through July 31 in 2018.
While some meth labs have been found in New Hampshire, Hennessey said much of the meth is believed to be traveling from distributors in places like Lawrence, Massachusetts, as well as New York and Connecticut.
David Mara, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s advisor on addiction and former interim Portsmouth police chief, said the meth crossing state lines likely originates in Mexico. National reports state meth has recently been mass produced by Mexican cartels and pumped into the United States.
Sawyer said different types of drugs become more widely used when supply of another goes down, and he said the supply of fentanyl to the Seacoast does not appear to have diminished.
Mara and Hennessey say some in New Hampshire are using meth to replace their fentanyl addiction not for lack of supply but to avoid fentanyl. Suspects arrested on meth cases have told police while being interviewed they started using meth because they wanted to avoid fentanyl for fear of overdosing, according to Hennessey.
Mara said those who attempt to replace opioids with meth do not realize one can be addicted to both simultaneously, as well as that meth is also lethal. He also said meth on the street has sometimes been found to be mixed with fentanyl.
“There are a lot of people out there that stay away from opioids, they know how dangerous it is, but they figure, ‘It’s safer to use crystal meth,’” Mara said. “Which is really not the case.”
Authorities say meth brings challenges to New Hampshire not seen in the current battle against the opioid crisis. Hennessey noted that unlike opioids, which often cause users to pass out, meth is a stimulant that keeps people up for days.
Tolerance to meth’s pleasurable effects develops when it is taken repeatedly, requiring abusers to need higher and more frequent doses. Chronic abusers may exhibit symptoms such as heightened anxiety, confusion, insomnia and violent behavior. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression and an intense craving for the drug.
Mara said the fact there is also no known drug used to treat people addicted to meth, like Suboxone and methadone for those fighting opioid addiction, compounds the threat meth brings to the region.
While he said most meth in New Hampshire appears to have been brought into the state rather than manufactured here, he noted how even small meth labs pose a risk of explosion and fire, as well as exposure to hazardous materials.
Mara said the state is looking at ways of improving education for the public and training for treatment specialists and first responders to deal with meth symptoms and the effects the drug has on users. He said the state has recently been heavily focused on opioid education and that boosting meth awareness efforts will be needed to help prevent use of the drug from becoming more widespread.
“We want to get ahead of it with the whole prevention piece before it grows to be the huge problem that it is (in other states),” Mara said.