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.

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Legislative leaders on both sides are cheering the Senate’s passage of three bills meant to address the state’s heroin and opioid crisis.

 Less than a week after the legislative session opened, a trio of bills meant to address the state’s heroin crisis is heading for vote before the state Senate this Thursday.

The bills were vetted as part of a special task force that convened at the end of last year to focus specifically on issues related to the state's heroin and opioid crisis.

Paige Sutherland for NHPR

In Manchester this past year, more than 540 dirty syringes have been found. But as heroin use increases across the state, used needles are also showing up in cities like Nashua, Dover and Laconia.

As part of our series, Dangerous Ends, we look at one bill seeking to legalize needle exchange programs in New Hampshire – a proposal that has been controversial in the state.

New Hampshire saw at least 385 drug deaths in 2015, according to the latest tally from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner — but the actual total could be even higher, as some 45 cases are still pending toxicology.

Citing concern about illegal drug use, the Berlin school board will be making the anti-overdose drug Narcan available in its schools.

Almost six percent of Berlin high school students admitted trying heroin at least once, according to a 2013 student survey prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says Corinne Cascadden, the superintendent of the Berlin schools.

Greta Rybus for NPR

When Jack O'Connor was 19, he was so desperate to beat his addictions to alcohol and opioids that he took a really rash step. He joined the Marines.

"This will fix me," O'Connor thought as he went to boot camp. "It better fix me or I'm screwed."

After 13 weeks of sobriety and exercise and discipline, O'Connor completed basic training, but he started using again immediately.

"Same thing," he says. "Percocet, like, off the street. Pills."

The New Hampshire Legislature's joint task force on opioid and heroin abuse worked through December to discuss the state's growing drug epidemic. Those recommendations have been sent to the governor and public leaders, and they'll start going through a public hearing process in the legislature next week.

Joining NHPR to talk about what the task force concluded is Senator Jeb Bradley. He served as chair of the task force.

The recommendations your forwarded fell into a few different priority levels. Can you spell them out for us?

Casey McDermott, NHPR

New Hampshire’s heroin and opioid epidemic has become a front-and-center issue on the campaign trail – prompting presidential candidates from both parties to answer question after question about what they’d do to fight addiction on a national level.

Casey McDermott, NHPR

As a state task force on heroin and opioid misuse wraps up its official work, lawmakers involved say the real work is just beginning.

(Left cousin Sofia Ford, step dad Ron Croce, younger brother Ryan Belanger, cousin Eva Ford, aunt Nena Stracuzzi, mother Lisa Stracuzzi, aunt Francesca Kennedy.)
Paige Sutherland/NHPR

In the coming weeks New Hampshire lawmakers hope to fast-track a number of bills to address the growing number of drug overdose deaths, which is on track to reach more than 400 this year.  As part of our year-long series on the state's opioid crisis called "Dangerous Ends" we look behind the numbers and hear one family’s story of loss.


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When New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in July 2013, no one expected the program to be up and running overnight.

Two and a half years later, however, none of the dispensaries envisioned under the new law are open, and the only patient who has received medical marijuana had to file a lawsuit for the right to travel out of state to get it.

So what’s taken so long?

Jack Rodolico

Last Friday, Linda Horan sat in front of a bank of reporters in the back room of a medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Maine. She was beaming.

"My god, I’m over the moon – completely over the moon," she said.

Most Rite Aid drug stores in New Hampshire will now stock Narcan.

If administered early enough, the drug can save lives by reversing an overdose.  

Pharmacies with a standing doctor’s order can distribute Narcan to anyone who asks for it – just like a flu shot. On Monday, Rite Aid became the first pharmacy franchise to get a standing order for Narcan at all its pharmacies in the state. The company has committed to stocking drug at most of its 69 NH locations.  

Eric Molina via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/4wWBoY

Seeing an increase in drug overdoses by the same people on multiple occasions, a coalition of fire chiefs is seeking state money to hire drug counselors who can train first responders in how to better direct victims toward treatment and recovery services.

Emergency responders have administered nearly 3,000 doses this year of the opioid antidote naloxone, known by its brand name Narcan. It reflects a spike of more than 300 percent since 2012, before the state's current opioid crisis hit its height.

Kevin Karns via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/PyK3i

There have been 342 drug deaths in New Hampshire so far this year, and state officials are expecting the total to surpass 400 by the end of 2015.

Steve Smithe via Flickr

The New Hampshire Medical Society told lawmakers that crafting best practices for prescribing opioids should be left to the medical community.  

James F Clay/FLICKR

A bill that would mandate education on drugs and alcohol in schools is likely to be fast tracked once lawmakers return to Concord in January.

 

New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster tells lawmakers that overdose deaths will top 400 this year, more than double the deaths in 2013.

Foster addressed a legislative task force Tuesday as the state looks to rein in a growing abuse epidemic. Three hundred people have already died from drug overdoses, most from heroin and the powerful painkiller fentanyl. In 2013, there were 192 overdose deaths.

Courtesy the NH House of Representatives

 The idea of expanding drug courts in New Hampshire got an initial stamp of approval from the finance division of the state’s heroin and opioid task force on Tuesday and will now head to the full task force for further approval.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Lawmakers are meeting again this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to figure out how to tackle the state’s opioid crisis. So far, the drug task force has covered topics such as stricter penalties for fentanyl possession and increasing funds for the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. 

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A New Hampshire drug treatment program wants to give people a way to exchange used needles for clean ones, but the plan could require a change to state laws on the possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

A special task force on the state's opioid crisis has given the initial stamp of approval to a bill that would impose stricter criminal penalties for the distribution of fentanyl.

Sharon Morrow

The manager for New Hampshire’s prescription drug monitoring program told lawmakers Tuesday that more funding would help the system to better handle an expected increase in use that could come with efforts to more closely monitor opioid prescribing.

As part of a special legislative session on heroin and opioid misuse, Gov. Maggie Hassan and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley have each proposed giving the program $100,000 in state money to help with technology upgrades that would encourage more widespread use.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The Legislature's new drug task force kicks off Tuesday with its first meeting aimed to help better address the state's opioid crisis.

The group has a busy schedule, with nearly 20 people expected to speak over the course of the day. That will include Manchester Chief of Police Nick Willard, and Tym Rourke, who chairs the Governor's commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

File Photo / NHPR

 

 Senator Jeanne Shaheen is calling for an additional $600 million in emergency federal funding to tackle opioid and heroin misuse across the country — and she says, as in previous public health crises, the federal government needs to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to this issue.

“We’re really looking at, how can we have a coordinated effort? The federal government did that in fighting Ebola. They’ve done that in other health emergencies,” Shaheen said. “We’re saying that this is a health emergency, and we need to ramp in the same way to fight it on all fronts.”

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is proposing $600 million in emergency funding to address the nation's opioid and heroin abuse crisis.

The bulk of the money would go to the Department of Health and Human Services, including $250 million that would be distributed to states as block grants for prevention, treatment and recovery programs. Another $200 million would go to the Department of Justice for grants that fund programs focused on law enforcement, courts and education.

Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Approved by a special legislative session, a newly minted task force will spend the next weeks considering several options for tackling the state’s drug problem, which has claimed more than five hundred lives in the last two years. The goal is to craft legislation quickly -- in time for the January return of the legislature.

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Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Lawmakers will gather at the State House in Concord Wednesday for a special session devoted solely to tackling the issue of substance abuse.

The state saw a record number of drug overdoses last year – more than 300 – and opioid, heroin, and prescription drug abuse continues to plague communities across the Granite State.

To talk about the special session, Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem joined NHPR's Morning Edition.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

 

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte says New Hampshire is getting more help in prosecuting drug traffickers.

Ayotte says she has secured a commitment from the Drug Enforcement Administration to create a federally-funded, full-time position in the U.S. attorney's office to enhance efforts to prosecute drug traffickers. Ayotte, a Republican, had written a letter to Department of Justice officials in October requesting funding for the position.

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By all accounts, New Hampshire in the throes of a drug addiction crisis; more than 300 people died from drug overdoses last year, the most in state history.

But while there’s the human toll, there’s also an impact on businesses and the state’s overall economy.

To talk more about that, Jeff Feingold, editor of the New Hampshire Business Review, joined NHPR's Morning Edition to talk about NHBR's reporting on the issue.

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