New Hampshire declares state of emergency over synthetic drug

MANCHESTER N.H. Thu Aug 14, 2014 5:48pm EDT

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MANCHESTER N.H. (Reuters) - New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan declared a state of emergency on Thursday in response to 44 reported overdoses linked to people smoking or ingesting "Smacked," a synthetic marijuana-like product sold in convenience stores as potpourri.

The state of emergency authorizes public health officials to investigate stores and quarantine the product, and Hassan directed the officials to work with local police departments to do so.

"These products pose a serious threat to public health, especially to young people, and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to combat the recent rash of overdoses," Hassan said in a statement.

The overdoses, none of which have been fatal, have primarily been reported in the Manchester area. Manchester police on Wednesday said they had found Smacked in three convenience stores and that those stores' business licenses were revoked.

Health officials are particularly concerned about the bubblegum flavor of Smacked, which several people who were brought to area hospitals reported taking.

The packets contain a potpourri-like substance that is sprayed with chemically engineered substances similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, officials said.

Similar concerns have arisen over "bath salts," which sent thousands of people in the United States to hospitals in 2012.

A federal ban on compounds found in synthetic marijuana products and bath salts was enacted in 2012, and later that year New Hampshire joined more 40 other states in adopting similar bans. But such laws have proven difficult to enforce, as drug makers can make slight modifications to the products' chemical compositions.

New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster urged store owners to voluntarily pull such products from their shelves, noting that they "could be held responsible for harm caused to a user of the product."

(Reporting by Ted Siefer; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Beech)

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