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January 29, 2014

Three Salem overdoses raise concerns

Police say tainted drugs could be the cause

SALEM — Three people overdosed on possibly tainted narcotics within 24 hours, Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said.

A Haverhill, Mass., woman was fighting for her life in a Boston hospital after she and a male companion were found unconscious and not breathing in a car on Ticklefancy Lane Monday afternoon, he said.

The unidentified woman, 20, was in a coma yesterday. Her companion, a 21-year-old man from Salem, was hospitalized in stable condition.

At 1:30 p.m. yesterday, fire department paramedics revived an unconscious 21-year-old man on Bluff Street. Police believe he, too, may have ingested tainted narcotics, Patten said. He was an acquaintance of the two people who overdosed Monday, he said.

The drugs could be heroin, cocaine, a combination or other substances being sold as heroin, Patten said.

Three people overdosed on heroin last week in Portsmouth and a 37-year-old man died as a result.

That prompted Portsmouth police to issue their first public warning to heroin users about highly potent or tainted heroin.

Patten stopped short of doing that, but said his detectives were reaching out to other regional law enforcement agencies who have seen similar cases.

The state has seen a spike in heroin use, overdoses and deaths.

Sixty-one people died of heroin doses in New Hampshire last year, a big increase over the 38 heroin deaths in 2013, according to Kim Fallon, chief forensic investigator for the state medical examiner.

It’s a number that sends shudders throughout the Granite State.

“Heroin is our number one drug, based on low price and easy availability,” Patten said yesterday. “I don’t think it’s just a Salem issue. I think it’s widespread. It’s clearly an issue in this area and probably not confined to this region.”

As heroin use increases, so do theft-related crimes, he said.

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