Editorial: N.H. must play a role in countering heroin epidemic
Last summer, on the way somewhere else, we drove through Bennington, Vt. On a dozen earlier trips through this historic and picturesque town, we had thought about stopping at the Old First Church. This time we did.
We were in luck. Two longtime church members were inside to answer our questions. The church building dates to 1806, much older than the latest incarnation of Concord’s Old North. We toured the sanctuary and visited the grave of Robert Frost in the churchyard. Our only regret was that a downpour kept us from further prospecting among the stones.
Imagine, then, our surprise on seeing the haunting look of Stephanie Predel on the front page of the New York Times one day last week. Predel lives in Bennington, and although she is off heroin now, the Times had good cause to use her as the face of the town’s heroin epidemic.
Yes, you read that right. Historic, picturesque Bennington is in the middle of a heroin epidemic.
As Katharine Q. Seelye reported in the Times story, a state trooper says heroin is everywhere in town. “It’s in the high school,” Trooper Wayne Godfrey told Seelye. “The kids are doing it right in school. You find Baggies in the hallway.”
As for Predel, she says if she wants to go back on heroin, she can get it from dealers at meetings for recovering addicts. “People are getting high in the bathroom,” she said.
New Hampshire state and local officials have also used the word epidemic to describe the heroin problem on this side of the Connecticut River. In 2012 heroin overtook other illegal drugs as the leading cause of death in New Hampshire. Last year 64 people in the state died of heroin overdoses, an increase of nearly 70 percent in one year.
Availability and price, and perhaps an ignorance of heroin’s reputation as a killer, are keys to the growing popularity of the drug. Heroin is now cheaper than legal opiod drugs sold illegally on the streets. Residual effects of the epidemic include more theft, abuse, neglect and other crimes.
The reliance on local government to solve local problems is a strong tradition in New Hampshire, but it can also lead to a diffuse effort that works in one town and skips another. The state needs to develop and share good strategies for countering the heroin epidemic now.
The public, meanwhile, must understand that danger from heroin is at hand no matter where in the state you live.
If you drive through Bennington, with its fancy college, art museum and statue of our own John Stark, you’d say of Vermont’s heroin epidemic, “It can’t happen here.”
But it is happening there. And no New Hampshire city or town is safe from its reach.