Manchester Police Fight Rising Tide Of Drugs

Aug 15, 2013

The abuse of prescription drugs and heroin in the city has been on the rise in the past decade. For police that means a rise in related crime and overdoses.

It’s a Friday night and the call comes in. A dead body found in a Pine street apartment. Male. Early 40s. The medical examiner rules it a likely overdose and the police check the security cameras to track down who was the last to see him alive.

A woman seen leaving his apartment around 10:30 in the morning is identified and located. Officer 

The numbers of police calls for service for overdoses since 1994. Not all calls are deaths, which, according to the state medical examiner, is rising across the state.
Credit Sara Plourde, numbers courtesy of MPD / NHPR

  Matthew Solari interviews her to find out what the deceased was taking before he died.

“So I was talking to him. I talked to him throughout the night. He was fine he was awake. But then this morning he was really acting weird. Like he started saying that there was bugs crawling on him.

And then the next thing I know the tub’s filling up and I could hear the water hitting the floor. So I went in there and I was like what are you doing? And he was like the bugs are on me can you see ‘em? I’m like there’s no bugs on you. Cause he had gotten out of the shower and he was like, the bugs, look, look. And I said that’s the side effects from the drugs. I tried telling him, you needed to stop.

Solari: Ok, do you know if he was taking anything other than cocaine?

Um, Percocets, the cocaine, I know he took two Benadryl…”

Drug overdoses happen weekly in Manchester. And police say hard drugs, particularly heroin and prescription painkillers, are fueling crime like prostitution and theft.

Drug related arrests since 1992.
Credit Sara Plourde, numbers courtesy of MPD / NHPR

David Mara is Manchester’s police chief.

“Burglaries skyrocketed, robberies have gone up…it has to do with prescription drugs. It has to do with people getting hooked on prescription drugs.”

Sergeant Brian LeVeille leads Manchester’s undercover narcotics team, the Special Investigations Unit. The unit tries to disrupt drug sales of all kinds. Police in Manchester regularly seize thousands of grams of cocaine and marijuana each year. Heroin seizures are lower but rising.


Basically, it is the biggest problem we face today. I would classify it as an epidemic.”

LeVeille says, in Manchester, opiate addiction almost always starts with prescription pills like Oxycodone.

“On average it’s a dollar a milligram. That’s basically the guideline out on the street. So if you’ve got a 30mg Oxycodone tablet, that’s going to sell for $30. Now we’re seeing it more and more, we’re seeing it upwards of $35 a pill.”

Once OxyContin was the most abused pain pill in the city. But after it was reformulated to curb abuse, Oxycodone became more popular. 30mg pills of Oxycodone are called ‘blueberries’ on the street. And for dealers, LeVeille says, selling them can be a big business.

Police seizures of OxyContin dropped precipitously the same year the reformulated version reached distributors. Oxycodone and Percocet seizures subsequently rose.
Credit Sara Plourde, numbers courtesy of MPD / NHPR

“Yea, we had one a few years ago that was selling upwards of 20,000 pills a month of Oxycodone 30s and that was coming straight from New York.”

That arrest of a high level dealer crimped the flow of pills into Manchester for about a year but now numbers are back up. More people are getting hooked. And, according to police, many addicts eventually switch to a cheaper alternative: heroin.

Shift in Addiction Cases

“Heroin attaches. It’s like a terrible internal parasite that takes everything out of a person...”

Barbara Cormier has seen the harm done by heroin and oxy for about 20 years. She’s an addiction counselor in the detox ward of Manchester’s new privately-run rehab facility, the Farnum Center

“…  Because the drug has taken over all those locks and keys internally and says, ‘I don’t care what you want. I’m gonna tell you what to do.”

Cormier says that in the late 80s, the majority of her detox patients were addicted to alcohol. Now, most are in withdrawal from opiates.

The graph (right) shows that treatment for opiate addiction has risen significantly over the past decade. Donut chart (left) shows how opiate treatment in Manchester is above the current state average which has tied alcohol addiction, the traditional majority.
Credit Sara Plourde, numbers courtesy DHHS / NHPR

About 1,900 people received state-funded treatment in last year for opiate addiction. That’s nearly a five-fold increase since 2001. This past year, about 750 patients received treatment in Manchester alone. Factor in that the vast majority of addicts don’t get treatment, and the bottom line is that Manchester has many people in the market for narcotics.

And police say dealers from south of the New Hampshire border have been meeting that demand.

Northeast Drug Hub

“It’s a huge factor. The fact that we live 25-30 minutes north of Lawrence...”

Sergeant Brian LeVeille considers Lawrence the biggest drug source city in northern New England.

He says drug traffickers prefer Lawrence over Boston because of how easy it is to hop on and off the I95 corridor from New York. LeVeille also says dealers from Lawrence can sell the same product for double the price in Manchester.

“You can purchase a finger of heroin—that’s 10 grams—you can purchase that down in Lawrence for $400. Up here that same finger would sell for $900 to $1000.”

Those economic forces don’t make the job of the police an easy one, but not fighting narcotics means dealing with an even bigger increase in burglaries, prostitution and other crimes that flow from the drug trade.

Virtually every prostitute the MPD encounters is also an opiate addict. Police say their activity tends to center on these six city blocks. Points indicate locations where MPD's Street Crime Unit have made prostitution arrests in recent years.
Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR