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.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The New Hampshire House killed a bill Wednesday to fund a program designed to teach substance abuse prevention in high schools.

HOPE, which stands for Heroin and Opiate Prevention Education, is run by Plymouth State University and offers peer to peer prevention. But not every school in the state participates.

Under the measure, roughly $51,000 would be available to public and charter high schools in the state who want to join the program.

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The New Hampshire House on Wednesday backed a bill calling for an additional $5 million to help combat the state’s current opioid crisis.

Under the measure, $3, million will go to treatment services while $2 million will help to provide housing for those battling an addiction. It also includes money to hire a state attorney to prosecute drug cases.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The New Hampshire House Wednesday backed a measure that would allow the state Division of Children, Youth and Families to investigate parents suspected of having an opioid dependence. 

As written, the bill would exempt parents currently involved in treatment or actively seeking treatment.  

Democrat Skip Berrien of Exeter said this bill would ensure that DCYF can offer services before problems escalate.

Charles Willams / Flickr/CC

Heroin pills. That’s how Andrew Kolodny describes oxycodone, one of the most widely prescribed – and abused – narcotic painkillers in the U.S. 

Kolodny is executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and senior scientist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. He joined The Exchange this week to discuss the opioid crisis – its origins and how states, including New Hampshire, are trying to overcome it.

Prescribing Opioids During an Addiction Epidemic

Apr 14, 2016
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State lawmakers, doctors, and others in the medical profession have been hammering out new guidelines for prescribing these drugs to tackle the issue of over-use and alleviate the addiction crisis. We'll get the latest on this discussion and also find out how New Hampshire's approach compares with other states.

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/">Mike Cophlan</a>

  Health practitioners across the state say the drug methadone should be available behind bars – especially to patients already on the medication. But jails and prisons in New Hampshire do not offer the drug to recovering addicts, many of whom rely on it to stay sober.    


Peter Biello for NHPR

Thirty-eight-year old James Vara is about to become the state's so-called Drug Czar. For another few weeks, he'll be wrapping up his work as a Senior Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice, but when he starts his new position, he'll be taking a leading role in solving a problem that killed more than four hundred people in New Hampshire last year: the state's opiate addiction crisis.

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The battle lines on the fight over the future of New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion are well-defined as the issue comes up for a vote in the state Senate tomorrow.

On Wednesday’s episode of The Exchange, State Sens. Jeb Bradley and Andy Sanborn — a vocal proponent and opponent of the expansion, respectively — sparred over a number of elements of the program, including its effects on the state's drug crisis.

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Law enforcement officials are pushing back against a bill that allows people to drop off illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, and drug paraphernalia at police stations.

Currently police stations accept unused prescription drugs in designed drop boxes.

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We're checking in on the state's response to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Lawmakers were evenly split Tuesday on whether or not the House should support the legalization of needle exchange programs in New Hampshire.

After a 7 to 7 vote, the bill now heads to the full House next week without recommendation from the Criminal Justice Committee. Last month the Health and Human Services Committee unanimously backed the measure.  

Dirty Bunny via Flickr/CreativeCommons

 

New Hampshire would join the rest of the New England in making it easier for addicts to exchange dirty needles for clean ones under a bill being heard by a House committee.

Under current law, hypodermic needles and syringes can only be dispensed by pharmacists, and possessing a used syringe with heroin residue on it is a felony.

At least five men and five women have died of drug overdoses in New Hampshire so far in 2016, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The actual number of drug deaths this year could be higher, as an additional 86 possible overdose cases are still awaiting toxicology. It can take several months for the state to fully review a suspected overdose to confirm the cause of death.

Jack Rodolico

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s investigation into marketing practices by large pharmaceutical companies hit a roadblock this week. The Attorney General wants to know if those companies have been deceptively marketing opioids - drugs that have been diverted in mass quantities to fuel addictions and overdoses. But a court order now slows down that process.

A federal bill aimed at helping states tackle the ongoing heroin and opioid epidemic cleared a major hurdle Thursday. 

The measure calls for roughly $70 million over the next three years to help expand treatment for people battling addiction while in prison and drug prevention efforts in schools. It would also strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs.

The bill easily passed the U.S. Senate on a 94 to 1 vote and now heads to the House.

New Hampshire Senate
Allegra Boverman / NHPR

New Hampshire child protection officials would have more power to intervene when a parent is abusing drugs or a child is born drug dependent under a bill adopted by the state’s senate. The bill passed unanimously but not without debate.

The bill defines opioid abuse or dependence by a parent as neglect under New Hampshire's Child Protection Act. Right now that law doesn't identify specific conduct by parents as being sufficient to trigger neglect proceedings.

At least three people have died from drug overdoses so far this year in New Hampshire, but the state medical examiner's office is awaiting toxicology results on another 60 cases that have come into its lab this year.

According to the most recent data, at least 420 people died from drug overdoses in 2015 — that figure is more than double what it was two years ago.

Jack Rodolico

The New Hampshire Insurance Department is trying to figure out if the state's largest insurance companies are covering opioid treatment the way the law requires.

The preliminary findings of the department's ongoing investigation are inconclusive.

Jim Cole/AP

In the months leading up to Tuesday’s primary, nearly every presidential candidate mentioned New Hampshire’s opioid and heroin epidemic while on the stump in the Granite State.

But now that the New Hampshire primary has come and gone - will this issue be forgotten on the campaign trail as candidates' shift focus to other states?

How did the drug issue became a talking point on the 2016 trail?

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A federal bill that provides money for addiction treatment and drug prevention has passed its first hurdle. Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen co-sponsored the legislation. 

The bill calls for additional dollars for a number of areas including treatment for people battling addiction while in prison, drug prevention efforts in schools, and expanding access to the overdose reversal drug Narcan.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure by a unanimous vote. But how much of the bill’s $70 million would go to New Hampshire is unknown.

As state officials feared, drug overdose deaths rose significantly in New Hampshire last year, to well over 400 cases.

The latest data from the state's medical examiner show that 414 people suffered fatal overdoses in 2015, up from 326 in 2014 and 192 the year before.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday passed three bills aimed at combating the state’s ongoing opioid crisis.

The measures include the creation of a state drug court program, improvements to the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, the addition of more than $2 million to help police combat the drug epidemic, and money to buy 27 additional state police cruisers. 

Dirty Bunny via Flickr/CreativeCommons

A bill seeking to legalize needle exchange programs in New Hampshire is getting some pushback from law enforcement. The debate rests on whether to make it legal to have trace amounts of heroin on a needle.

If passed the measure would legalize minute amounts of heroin left on used syringes. The aim, according to sponsor Rep. Joe Hannon, is to make sure those seeking to exchange dirty needles for clean ones can do so without fearing arrest.

Sara Plourde / NHPR

As New Hampshire tries to address an epidemic of opiate abuse, leaders in the state often focus on increasing the number of treatment beds and programs. But many in the state say staffing those programs may be much harder than building them.

Addiction treatment programs have been facing staffing shortages across the country for many years. In New Hampshire, things are particularly bad.  


Courtesy of the U.S. Senate

Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard joined New Hampshire's two U.S. Senators in Washington Wednesday to testify on a bill aimed at combating the heroin epidemic.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Lawmakers worked out the kinks Tuesday morning on a bill aimed to connect those who receive the overdose reversal drug Narcan with a recovery coach.

If passed this measure would require hospital emergency departments throughout the state to refer such patients to a trained mentor who can speak with the patient and link him or her to treatment.

The bill, however, does not require hospitals to hire any new employees.

Melissa Crews of Hope for New Hampshire Recovery told lawmakers having patients meet with someone immediately after an overdose is key.

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The first addiction recovery center in Manchester is one step closer to opening. That's after the city’s planning board has approved a permit request to turn the former Hoitt Furniture Building into a 24/7 one-stop treatment facility.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Just two weeks into the new legislative session, Gov. Maggie Hassan has signed into law two bills aimed at tackling the state’s opioid epidemic.

The fast tracked bills came out of the state’s legislative drug task force that was crafted during last year’s special session. In 2015 more than 400 people died of a drug overdose.

File Photo

The 72-acre, sprawling campus of Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center - with about a dozen buildings overlooking lakes and mountains - has always been used as a place to treat people with brain injuries or developmental disabilities. But there has always been controversy too.

    

In 1992 the FBI raided the site when they suspected the original owners of fraud. And then last year, after the Disability Rights Center put out a scathing report on Lakeview’s practices, the state shut it down. The place was notorious for poor care. But Eric Spofford hopes to change all that.

Josh Rogers/NHPR

Jack Wozmak says with the legislature presently focused on the opioid crisis, now is a good time for him to step down as the state's so-called "drug czar." (Click here to read his resignation letter.) 

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