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Drug abuse experts to legislators: More prevention and treatment needed

Last modified: 5/23/2014 2:29:12 PM
A panel of state officials and drug abuse experts told several dozen lawmakers yesterday that New Hampshire’s addiction woes are mushrooming in scale and cost, and can only truly be mitigated through an increase in prevention and treatment services.

Speaking at an education session in Concord, the group told legislators that the state is in need of more diversion, counseling and alternative sentencing programs, all of which are aimed at addressing the root causes of addiction.

Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, head of the superior courts, said New Hampshire spends far less than other states do on such efforts.

“For every hundred dollars state governments spend on substance abuse and addiction, an average of $2.38 is spent on prevention and treatment,” she said. “Connecticut spent the most: $10.39 out of every $100. New Hampshire? Twenty-two cents.”

Tym Rourke, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention and Treatment, said only about 5 percent of addicts in New Hampshire receive treatment of some kind – one of the lowest rates in the country.

“In the United States, if you have a substance abuse disorder, the only other state where you are less likely to get help is Texas,” he said.

Delaware, the state with the highest rate, provides treatment to 16 percent of those in need, Rourke said.

The discussion comes as the state continues to face down a booming opiate epidemic, fueled in part by recent restrictions on prescription pain medication. Heroin overdoses led to at least 69 deaths last year, up from 16 in 2008 and fewer than 10 a little more than a decade ago. Police officials are reporting record increases in drug-related crimes, and several have said they lack the manpower and resources to tackle to the crisis long term.

“We show up to a call, we have to take you into custody,” said Eddie Edwards, South Hampton police chief and a member of the governor’s commission. “That may not be the best thing for you.”

“Our perception in law enforcement is, we view this as a health crisis,” he told the group. “And we’re using a law enforcement tool to prevent a health crisis.”

That crisis is also costing the state more than $1 billion each year in lost profits, according to a data released last year from New Futures, a nonprofit focused on drug prevention and treatment. The state’s annual income is about $65 billion.

“This is a human tragedy, but it also decreases the wealth of our state,” said Brian Gottlob, who conducted the research.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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