Men from Newburyport and Hampton, N.H., have been indicted on felony charges that they illegally sold the highly addictive prescription drug OxyContin throughout the region.
Phillip W. Widener, 52, with past addresses in Newburyport on Merrimac Street and Woodman Way, and in Seabrook on Whittier Drive, is facing two felony counts of sale of controlled drugs and possession of controlled drugs with intent to distribute.
The man police believe to be Widener's partner, Stephen Marshall, 42, with an address listed as the Emerald Isle Motel in Hampton, was also arrested. Marshall faces seven felony counts, including multiple counts of sale of controlled drugs and possession of controlled drugs with intent to distribute.
Both were indicted by a Rockingham County grand jury last week. Each count carries a charge of from 31�Ñ2 to seven years in prison under New Hampshire law.
The arrests were made after undercover agents with the N.H. Attorney General's Drug Task Force were able to purchase numerous OxyContin 80 milligram tablets from Widener.
"Oxy 80s are the most sought after (prescription drug) sold illegally today," Sgt. Richard Farrell of the N.H. Attorney Genearls' Drug Task Force said. "It's the largest (dosage) prescribed regularly, and it sells for about $1 per milligram. It's expensive, so you often find people get addicted to Oxys, then can't afford to maintain that habit and resort to heroin, which is much cheaper."
The arrests are examples of the regional nature of the illegal drug industry, Farrell said. The task force arrested the men at the Emerald Isle Motel in Hampton in November, netting drugs and money after a months-long investigation that started with a Seabrook police tip.
Although Farrell said neither Widener nor Marshall were "drug kingpins," their arrests will help identify other people in "their sphere of influence." Both men were addicts, who bought drugs to use themselves and sold them to others to support their habit, he said.
The DTF's investigation began after Seabrook police brought the suspects to the attention of the task force, Seabrook Detective Brett Walker said.
"We did an investigation down here in Seabrook and came up with arrests, which gave us more information," Walker said. "We called the Drug Task Force in. I knew that they had the resources to take this forward that we didn't here."
Seabrook's call is an example of how drug cooperation between local police departments and regional and state agencies works most effectively in getting drug dealers off the streets, Farrell said.
Farrell said Walker, who spent two years on the task force, understands that the illegal drug industry doesn't respect state or town borders and that a regional approach linking local police with state agencies works best.
"If Brett hadn't made that call, if he weren't supported by his chief of police, these two men wouldn't have been arrested," Farrell said. "Guys like this move around a lot; that's why you have so many addresses for them. They live in winter rentals that rent at reduced rates, then in the spring they're gone. They sold drugs all over the seacoast."
Salisbury police Chief David L'Esperance, a former member of the North East Merrimack Valley Drug Task Force, in which Salisbury still participates, agrees completely with Farrell.
"It's definitely a regional issue," L'Esperance said. "Anyone who thinks it's not in their backyard because they live in a small, quiet suburb is sadly mistaken. From Salisbury's perspective, we share information cross-border all the time. The (federal) Drug Enforcement Agency actually has a cross-border drug task force that spans from Salem (N.H.) to Seabrook and Salisbury to Lawrence."
According to Farrell, the (prescription) drugs sold allegedly by Widener and Marshall along the seacoast probably came from Lawrence, Lowell, Manchester and Portsmouth, N.H., or even Portland, Maine.
Interstate 95 is considered the transportation pipeline through the seacoast for drugs, linking drug suppliers with drug users, from as far south as Florida and as far north as Canada, Farrell said. Pharmaceuticals from Canada often travel through Maine to New Hampshire, he said.
A separate OxyContin bust was made in North Hampton on Monday by Trooper Gary Ingham of the N.H. State Police, Troop A, which patrols the Granite State's I-95 corridor.
Ingham's K-9 partner, Diablo, found a substantial quantity of pills, suspected to be Ecstasy and OxyContin, in the glove box during a traffic stop. The driver, one passenger from Augusta, Maine, and another passenger from St. Albans, N.Y., are charged with possession of drugs with intent to sell.
"I-95 is a drug conduit," Farrell said. "Often product goes north and money goes south."