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N.H. Leaders Brainstorm How To Tackle Heroin Uptick

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Local, state and federal officials combined forces in Dover on Friday to try to figure out how best to combat New Hampshire’s ongoing heroin epidemic.

The Heroin Summit, which focused on truth and hope for solutions, attracted dozens of medical professionals, social workers, police officers and state and federal legislators.

Last year more than 320 people in New Hampshire died from drug overdoses, which is more than in traffic accidents and nearly twice the amount of overdoses than in 2010. Law enforcement say the low cost of heroin combined with finding the dangerous chemical fentantyl laced in more and more batches are driving the fatality rate upward.

But Strafford County attorney Tom Velardi, who’s loved one battles addiction, says this issue affects all walks of life, not just the poverty-stricken.

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Family members who have loved one's battling drug addiction say using these negative labels only hurts one's recovery.

“It has become personal to so many of us because it is all around us. If you don’t think you know someone who is dealing with this issue, I guarantee you that you are, you just don’t know about it yet,” Velardi told the crowd.

Currently New Hampshire is the 49th worst state in providing treatment services per capita in the nation. The state has been underfunding treatment for decades, said Joe Harding, who heads the state’s drug and alcohol services.

“There is over a 100,000 people in the state that meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder and our contracted system in the state we can serve about 5,000 people,” he said.

And according to Tym Rourke, who sits on the Governor’s alcohol and substance abuse task force, treatment works.


Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Marty O'Brien, who was the keynote speaker, runs a residential treatment center that is based on hope and belonging. This sculpture is meant to represent how someone can feel invisible when battling addiction.

“Treatment when delivered effectively and in an evidence based way, treatment outcomes for addiction are 40 to 60 percent which is roughly the same for hypertension and diabetes treatment,” Rourke said, adding that if the state puts more money into prevention and treatment services, New Hampshire would save millions by reducing police, court and medical fees.

Sen. Jeanie Forester, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, attended the conference. She said she would do her best to increase funding for substance abuse programs, something that was only modestly increased in the House budget. The state's two-year budget will be finalized by June 30.

John Eldredge, who has been off heroin for seven years now, runs a 32-bed treatment center in Dover.

“Yes people are dying and yes, there are a lot of problems associated with addiction -- treatment does work, recovery is possible.”

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