‘It looks like zombies have taken over the park’

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Manchester Police cruiser parked at Bronstein Park, where several people have OD'd on spice.
Manchester Police cruiser parked at Bronstein Park, where several people have OD’d on spice.

Manchester’s Public Health Director Timothy Soucy spent Thursday riding along with city ambulances. He got a first-hand look at what’s been happening around the city over the past 48 hours, as more than 40 people have required medical treatment for “spice” overdoses.

Although the presence of this particular chemical substance is not new, a “bad batch” has been circulating and creating chaos for first responders. On Wednesday, the mayor and chief of police took swift action and shut down three local convenience stores that had been selling the product, under brand name Smacked, which is packaged as potpourri but deliberately marketed to those looking for a cheap buzz by ingesting it.

By Thursday, Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a state of emergency in New Hampshire, after more overdoses were reported in Concord.

“Emergency responders are saying these people are lethargic. I hate to say it, but it looks like zombies have taken over the park,” said Soucy.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said to his knowledge this is only the second time the city has enforced a city ordinance that allows for a business license to be pulled if it is considered a “public nuisance.” [Listen to Mayor Gatsas discuss the topic in the video above.]

Specifically,  Chapter 110.2 of the city’s ordinance addresses the issue of business license revocation for public nuisance, stating:

A nuisance, in addition to its common law meaning, is anything that endangers life, health or safety, gives offense to senses, violates common standards of decency or obstructs reasonable and comfortable use of any property.

Manchester Police on Thursday released a brief update on the situation. In addition to the overdoses reported between Monday and Tuesday, there were six reports of overdoses linked to spice Wednesday and seven more on Thursday.  Most of the overdose victims were located in one of the three center city parks, bringing the overall total to approximately 44 overdoses since August 11, police said.

Soucy said the number of individuals affected in such a short span required “drastic action” by the city.

“I’m not sure we completely understand what the addictive properties of the spice is yet, but in talking with people in the park, they say they’d rather do heroin than spice, because you don’t know what the effects of the spice will be,” Soucy said.

Ron Gillis was in Bronstein Park Thursday with his granddaughter as two police cruisers were leaving after wrapping up interviews, following three reported overdoses.

“I agree with shutting down the businesses. They shouldn’t be selling it,” Gillis said.

But he also said he believes part of the problem would be solved if New Hampshire would legalize marijuana.

“Spice is cheaper and easier to get, but it makes you loopy. I’ve tried it,” Gillis said. “I wanted to know what it was all about.”

“In my opinion, pot is no different than alcohol. The spice appeals to younger people because they can buy it legally – and they can get twice as much for half the price of pot,” Gillis said.

He at one time in his life struggled with alcohol, and believes alcohol is more of a problem than marijuana.

“I was a sponsor at one time for AA back in the ’90s. I’ve been there, and in my opinion, the alcohol is a bigger problem for most people than pot,” Gillis said.

He isn’t surprised that so many victims of spice have been found in city parks.

“The park is where most people who are homeless gather. It’s a problem, and the city knows it. They should worry about the homeless population instead of worrying so much about the immigrant population here,” Gillis said.

He questions why the United States allows synthetic marijuana to be imported from China.

“I don’t understand why customs allows it. Everyone knows that people are using it to get high. The police said they checked 50 stores and found three selling it. I find that hard to believe – everyone knows where it’s sold, and it’s sold in just about every mom and pop convenience store in the city,” Gillis said.

The problem of these synthetic drugs being abused is not new, and is not particular to New Hampshire, says Tym Rourke, Director of Substance Use Disorders, Grantmaking and Strategic Initiatives for the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

“This has been the story in every community in the U.S. There’s no way to preemptively ban these synthetic substances. It’s a complex web of a problem because it’s packaged in such a way that it’s hard to hold manufacturers to any kind of responsibility. It’s being packaged and labeled as ‘potpourri’ which isn’t an illegal substance. The packages are clearly labeled ‘not for human consumption,’ so that’s one mechanism that makes it difficult to ban,” Rourke said.


Even more frustrating is the way manufacturers of these synthetic compounds operate, says Traci Fowler, Regional Prevention Coordinator of Partners in Prevention Network, for the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health.

“It’s a cat and mouse situation. Every time the law comes in and says ‘this chemical is banned’ it seems the manufacturers can get around it by changing one tiny component of the product,” says Fowler.

That is what prompted three Lakes Region communities – Belmont, Tilton and Franklin – to take matters into their own hands and craft ordinances specific to “synthetic cannabinoids.”

Click below to read synthetic drug ordinances for:




“What it comes down to is having the police be on top of it. You can pass all kinds of ordinances, but it all comes down to enforcement,” Fowler said.

She said that while the sale of spice is not quite “underground,” store owners don’t display the products prominently.

“There’s a sense that you have to know where to go and who to ask. The people who are buying it know where they can get this stuff, which I think is not uncommon with anything being cracked down on,” Fowler said.

Although having specific ordinances in place, and local police finding effective ways to enforce those ordinances, there is a larger issue that remains, Fowler said.

That is addiction, said Fowler – from prevention to effective treatment.

“You’d like to believe that if you just stop stores from selling this  it will be all good. That maybe is a piece of the puzzle for us to focus on, but from my perspective as someone who’s involved with prevention, the biggest thing is public education, and making sure parents are aware that this is out there, and that it is marketed to kids,” Fowler said.

“For us, the million dollar question is how do we help people before they get caught up.

We understand that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. There is not one silver bullet. But what we do know is that it takes multiple approaches, there has to be a broad spectrum, starting with education –  that’s key,” Fowler said.

“We need to talk to our children throughout their entire school life. Not just in high school. One or two talks at that level about risky behavior doesn’t work. It has to be consistent. It has to be repeated, and it has to sink in. It’s about building that resiliency in our children, and also providing skills and opportunities for parents who need to build their skills as far as communicating with kids,” Fowler said.

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!