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Spike in suspected overdose deaths prompts warning from Manchester health officials

Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
Narcan, also known as naloxone, is an overdose reversal drug.

Health officials are warning people that an especially lethal batch of drugs could be circulating in Manchester right now.

The warning comes after city officials say seven people died of suspected drug overdoses in a two-day period.

Andrew Warner, Manchester’s director of overdose prevention, said it’s not clear what caused the spike. But he’s telling people to be extra careful with anything that looks like brown powder, which was found at most of the overdose sites.

“Not using alone is really important,” he said. “So trying to use the buddy system. If you're with a couple of people, and you get a new batch of a substance, stagger the use.”

People can also contact Warner at 603-657-0826 or awarner@manchesternh.gov if they need fentanyl test strips or Narcan.

City officials say they’re monitoring the situation, and multiple outreach teams are going out into the community every day to offer support to those at risk of overdose. Warner has been working to get the word out to shelters and other community organizations, and talking to people who use drugs about ways to be safer.

Experts warn that the illicit drug supply in New Hampshire and elsewhere is highly unpredictable. The synthetic opioid fentanyl isturning up in stimulants like cocaine and being pressed into fake pills. And sedatives like the animal tranquilizer xylazine are increasingly being cut into fentanyl, adding to its risks.

According to Warner, it could take weeks to learn what was in the drugs that caused this week’s deaths. New Hampshire doesn’t have systems to quickly test and identify new batches when they hit the streets and cause a spike in overdoses. He said that makes it harder for public health workers like him to know what they’re dealing with.

“Whether it's just a really strong batch of fentanyl,” he said, “or whether it’s some other fentanyl analog or whether it's carfentanil or whether it's the xylazine in the mix, or whether it's something we don't even know about yet — you know, it's just really hard to tell without having testing going on.”

People seeking help for a substance use disorder can call 211 or visit one of New Hampshire’s Doorway locations. The Doorway of Greater Manchester is located at 60 Rogers Street Suite 210 and is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On nights and weekends, people can visit the Extended Doorway at the Farnum Center, 140 Queen City Avenue in Manchester.

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.
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