Series: New Hampshire's Opioid Crisis

Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

Once considered a problem confined to large urban areas, the abuse of heroin and other opioids like prescription painkillers has become the number one public-health issue across New Hampshire. Three hundred twenty five people died of drug overdoses in the state last year, a 40 percent increase over 2013. State officials fear 2015 could be worse.

Meanwhile, the state’s underfunded network of treatment facilities can’t handle the number of people seeking help to overcome addiction.

Over the next year, NHPR will explore New Hampshire’s opioid crisis from several angles. A team of reporters will explain how people become addicted,  how prescription drugs like Vicodin and Oxycodone contribute to the rise in heroin use, and how state officials, from the governor to local police, are struggling with an epidemic that now kills more Granite Staters each year than traffic accidents.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

The effort to end the state’s opioid crisis involves many players: lawmakers, treatment and recovery providers, police and a often overlooked piece…the state’s crime lab.

With drug overdose deaths  rising, the state’s crime lab analysts have their hands full.

Roughly 3,500 drug cases wait to be analyzed at the State Police Crime lab in Concord. Some date as far back as last year.

New Hampshire is one of nearly a dozen states getting a one million dollar federal grant to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for drug addiction.

 New Hampshire currently has the fewest number of physicians in New England who are certified to prescribe Suboxone, a drug used to reduce opioid cravings and ease withdrawals.

Sara Plourde for NHPR

More than 400 people died last year from drug overdoses in New Hampshire and that number is expected to surpass 500 this year.  But as our numbers increase, in many parts of Europe drug overdose deaths are declining.

During a three week fellowship in Germany earlier this summer, NHPR reporter Paige Sutherland decided to dig into Germany’s drug policies—to see what’s different, what’s worked and what New Hampshire might learn as it continues to tackle an opioid crisis.

In a series called “Through the Looking Glass,” every morning this week you’ll hear stories about Germany’s policies, from rooms where addicts can legally use to needle machines in prisons.   

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Advocates, first responders, and local and federal lawmakers say the state has made great strides in combating an opioid crisis, but much more still needs to be done.  At two press conferences in Concord Tuesday, the focus was on efforts at the state and federal levels both past and future.

Jack Rodolico

It’s no secret drugs like OxyContin and hydromorphone are highly addictive.

The real question is this: do drug companies downplay how addictive they are while marketing the medicine to doctors?

New Hampshire’s Attorney General Joe Foster suspects false marketing of legal pills has led to abuse of illicit drugs like heroin. That’s why he subpoenaed the nation’s largest manufacturers of prescription painkillers.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

A substance abuse treatment facility in Franklin, Farnum North, has added 42 more inpatient beds. And with help from donations, the center can now start treating patients who lack insurance. 

via UFL.edu

New Hampshire’s medical marijuana program finally got off the ground in April, with the opening of the state’s first cannabis treatment center. Three of the four state-licensed dispensaries are now operating, and more than 1,100 people with serious illnesses are approved to use the drug.

But many, if not most, of the New Hampshire residents who could potentially benefit from medical marijuana won’t be able to legally obtain it.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Gov. Maggie Hassan has signed into law a bill to put state dollars into new and existing drug court programs across New Hampshire.

But for the past four years, Belknap County has been running its own drug court program without any financial help from the county, state or federal government.

They call it recovery court and it’s under the direction of a judge who has placed compassion at the heart of the program.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Most communities across New Hampshire have been touched by the opioid crisis that’s taken the lives of more than 400 Granite Staters last year, a majority from heroin and fentanyl.

But one place in the Lakes Region stands out not for its significantly high overdose numbers but rather how its community is responding.

  The latest numbers from the New Hampshire Office of the Chief Medical Examiner show that at least 161 people have fatally overdosed so far in 2016.

Officials are anticipating that those numbers will continue to rise in the months ahead, and the state is projecting at least 494 overdose deaths by the end of the year. 

Physicians licensed to prescribe a medication that reduces cravings and eases withdrawal for people addicted to heroin and other opioids will now be allowed to treat more patients.

 

Under new rules announced Wednesday by the Obama administration, physicians who prescribe Suboxone can treat 275 patients at a time, up from 100.

 

Jason Moon for NHPR

Today lawmakers approved a 1.5 million dollar statewide drug enforcement program known as Granite Hammer.

After a lengthy procedural debate in the House over whether to proceed with the special session, members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill. The legislation, based on a Manchester Police Department initiative, would create a grant program to fund drug enforcement efforts at county and local police departments.

Emily Corwin for NHPR

In Nashua on Wednesday, Republican Ted Gatsas announced his plan to fight opiate addiction across the state. In front of city hall, Gatsas told a small gathering of reporters the heroin crisis needs leadership, saying, "My first act as Governor would be to declare this fentanyl heroin epidemic is a public health emergency." 

Hope on the Front Lines was a week-long series focusing on the people and organizations working to make a difference on the front lines of New Hampshire's opioid crisis. Produced by NHPR's Morning Edition team, host Rick Ganley and producer Michael Brindley traveled the state to meet people on the ground level of a growing epidemic, doing what they can to help in their communities.  

Six police departments in New Hampshire and Maine plan to open their police stations to drug addicts seeking treatment.

Under the Community Access to Recovery program, those suffering from drug addiction may come to the police departments and be referred to treatment.

Police departments in Portsmouth, Dover and Newmarket, New Hampshire, and Eliot, York and Kittery, Maine, are participating.

They plan to announce the program on Wednesday.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

This week lawmakers will have their final say on dozens of bills still left over from this year's legislative session. Wednesday is the last chance any bills have of making it to the Governor’s desk this year.

NHPR Staff

New Hampshire will spend $100,000 to hire a law firm to investigate whether drug makers have marketed opioids in a deceptive fashion. New Hampshire's Executive Council voted unanimously to allow the Attorney General's office to hire the Washington law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll.

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Lawmakers in Congress appear to be finding some common ground when it comes to dealing with the heroin and opioid addiction crisis.

But how much money will actually be put toward funding treatment and prevention programs remains a sticking point.

Michael Burghardt couldn't sleep. His legs were shaking, his bones ached and he couldn't stop throwing up.

Burghardt was in the Valley Street Jail in Manchester, N.H. This was his 11th stay at the jail in the last 12 years. There had been charges for driving without a license, and arguments where the police were called. This time, Burghardt was in after an arrest for transporting drugs in a motor vehicle.

Emily Corwin / NHPR

This is the first week inmates about to be released from prison in New Hampshire can receive the substance abuse medication Vivitrol.

The program is designed to reduce re-offenses and drug overdoses after release.

DOC deputy commissioner Helen Hanks says the prison will give inmates a single dose of Vivitrol seven days before they return to the community. Then, Hanks says, “We connect them with a primary care provider so that we continue that continuity of care model to help them have the best success they can.”

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Hundreds of New Hampshire professionals from health care, law enforcement, education and other fields are gathering in Manchester for the Governor's Summit on Substance Misuse.

Tuesday's daylong conference is aimed at encouraging participants to reach beyond their professions and learn from their peers in other areas to address a growing crisis of heroin addiction and other substance use disorders in the state.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

The first addiction recovery center in New Hampshire's capital city is already helping patients after opening its doors Monday morning.  Hope for New Hampshire Recovery offers peer-to-peer support for people battling  addiction.

Jeff Pearson became addicted to heroin more than 30 years ago. Along the way, he racked up 80 drug-related offenses, went to prison five times and made dozens of rehab attempts, including several years standing in line for his daily dose of methadone.

In January, Pearson received a prescription for Suboxone, a medication that suppresses the symptoms of withdrawal. Four months later, he’s still surprised he’s not foraging for drugs every day, like he did for so many years.

Talk to people on the front lines of New Hampshire’s opioid crisis, and most of them will agree that addiction is a chronic disease. Yet there is still resistance to using medication to treat it.

Tym Rourke, who chairs the New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention and Treatment, says that some substance-abuse programs refuse to use methadone or Suboxone.

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After much debate, the New Hampshire Senate Thursday voted to keep the state’s so-called drug forfeiture fund alive.

Under current law money or assets seized in a criminal drug bust are put into a special fund used to combat future drug crimes. 

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

CVS Health is the latest pharmacy chain to offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone, known commonly as Narcan, at its stores in New Hampshire. 

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The New Hampshire Senate today will once again tackle a handful of bills geared at the state’s opioid crisis. Many of the proposals being related to illegal drug use.

s_falkow via Flickr Creative Commons

U.S. Attorney Emily Gray Rice and New Hampshire’s Attorney General, Joe Foster, will work together to prosecute drug overdoses as crime scenes. The goal is to charge drug dealers with homicide, when an overdose death can be linked to a drug sale. 

The collaboration will expand resources for state prosecutors and allow New Hampshire drug dealers to be charged under federal law, which has tougher penalties for drug crimes.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Manchester accounted for nearly a quarter of the fatal drug overdoses reported across New Hampshire last year, according to newly released data from the medical examiner’s office.

The state's largest city saw 106 overdoses last year, out of a statewide total of 433.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Last year saw more drug overdose deaths than ever before in New Hampshire.

So far in 2016, the state’s confirmed at least 48 deaths, with another 89 potential cases on top of that — officials are waiting for more toxicology reports to add those into the total.

The death toll, however, only tells part of the story of the opioid crisis in New Hampshire.

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