New Hampshire law enforcement is dealing with the one-two punch of fentanyl and methamphetamine, as opioid deaths continue to surge and methamphetamine fuels deadly violence.
And the source of those drugs is 2,400 miles away at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Last month, Manchester and Nashua reported a combined 95 opioid-related overdoses, a 13 percent increase from December. Nine deaths are believed to be linked to these overdoses.
The figures from last year show a sharp rise in opioid overdoses and deaths, after an initial dip due to the 2020 COVID-19 related lockdowns.
November overdose totals in Manchester and Nashua were up 110 percent from the same time in 2020, according to American Medical Response regional director Chris Stawasz.
“I know there are a lot of competing priorities with COVID-19 and the variants that are out there, but this is, unfortunately, if not more deadly, as deadly as the COVID-19 crisis is,” Stawasz told WMUR.
Manchester had more than 500 suspected overdoses in 2021, 30 percent more than the previous, and Nashua had 250 suspected overdoses in 2021, which was 29 percent more than 2020.
Opioid fatalities are typically linked to fentanyl, the powerful synthetic drug being manufactured by Chinese syndicates and distributed by Mexican drug cartels. Those cartels continue to find ways to smuggle the drugs over the border, flooding American streets.
According to The Washington Post, The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Laredo field office alone seized 588 pounds of fentanyl during the 2021 fiscal year, an eleven-fold increase over the 50 pounds it snared in 2020.
United States Attorney for New Hampshire John Farley said that while fentanyl is still the state’s main drug problem, methamphetamine is making gains among Granite Staters as well. It is now the second most common drug on the streets. Again, methamphetamine is a product from the cartels, he said.
“What we’ve seen is a real growth in the Mexican cartels manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine,” Farley said. “They are able to produce a cheap and very pure form of methamphetamine, what people call crystal meth, and they are very aggressive in distributing that highly addictive drug.”
One main method of distributing those drugs is dark web marketplaces. According to The New York Times, dark web sites are accounting for more and more of the fentanyl traffic in the country.
Farley said local and federal law enforcement are seeing come up from the border, and then getting shipped to the east coast. Many times, dealers are using the dark web to buy and sell large quantities of the drugs.
“Almost anyone who wants to find a connection can find a connection,” Farley said.
New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has said methamphetamine keeps popping up in investigations involving people shot by police officers. The last five complete investigations into fatal police shootings have found people with methamphetamine in their system who turned violent in confrontations with police, resulting in their deaths.
“Methamphetamine and fentanyl distribution continue to plague New Hampshire. As the Attorney General, I will continue to partner with federal and local law enforcement agencies to implement the most effective strategies to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into New Hampshire,” Formella said in a statement. “It is only by this collaborative effort that law enforcement can marshal assets to protect not only our citizens but the officers who work tirelessly to protect our state.”
Last year, Claremont’s Jeffry Ely, 40, was shot and killed during an armed standoff with New Hampshire State Police troopers. Ely had been suffering greater mental health problems as he increased his drug use, including methamphetamine, according to the shooting investigation.
David Donovan, 35, was shot and killed by police in Meredith in November 2020 when he charged at police, armed with a knife and covered in blood from having just stabbed his mother’s boyfriend, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s report. Donovan’s methamphetamine use caused him to become violent, paranoid, and delusional in the months leading up to his fatal encounter with Meredith police.
In October of 2020, Ethan Freeman, 37, of Thornton, was shot and killed by Thornton Police Officer Matthew Yao when a naked and bleeding Freeman charged Yao during a confrontation. Freemen had a history of methamphetamine and other drug abuse, as well as a significant history of mental health issues.
In December 2020, Mark Clermont, a paranoid felon who was known to carry an assault-style rifle and wear a ballistic vest while hunting for alien spacecraft, was shot and killed by New Hampshire State Police Trooper Matthew Merrill during a gun battle Clermont had started. Clermont was known to use methamphetamines. Merrill suffered gunshot wounds during the incident. He survived.
Those drugs ending up in the hands of armed dealers and users are a real concern of law enforcement, Farley said.
“We’re seeing a lot more drug dealers who are armed,” he said. “When a methamphetamine dealer is armed, or is using, the public safety risk is substantial. The impacts that methamphetamine has on thought processes can really create a public safety risk.”