2018 Stories of the Year: Did N.H. turn the tide on the drug crisis?

Monitor staff
Published: 12/25/2018 3:27:24 PM

The number of drug overdose deaths declined in New Hampshire in 2018 for the second year in a row as the state’s efforts against the continuing crisis, including a new “hub and spoke” model for treatment, drew praise from the nation’s highest medical official.

The Attorney General’s Office estimates that 437 people will die of drug overdoses in New Hampshire this year, most of them from opioids like fentanyl and heroin. That figure is about 10 percent lower than the number of overdose deaths in 2017 and in 2016, raising hopes that the tide has turned after several years of sharp increases.

“Compared to where you were, and the trajectory you were on, no one in this country has come as far as New Hampshire has in turning around the tide of the opioid epidemic,” is how U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams put it in October at a state conference about the opioid crisis.

Nobody, however, is saying that things are good. Addiction levels continue to be very high by historical standards, as is reflected in the new term “grandfamilies” to describe people who are raising their grandchildren because their children are struggling with drugs.

New Hampshire has seen a significant increase in overall children placed in out-of-home care, from 667 in 2012 to 977 in 2016, the last year studied in a report issued the year. The new Commission to Study Grandfamilies in New Hampshire recommended legislation to allow grandparents access to the state’s child care assistance program, currently available only to foster families.

The state is in the process of changing how it handles addiction, with nine providers – including Concord Hospital – heading up regional “hubs” that will take in anyone seeking treatment, acting as a front door to direct people to services in the area – a bigger version of the “Safe Stations” program which has seen success in Manchester and Nashua.

Collectively, the hubs will receive around $9 million a year, a piece of the $45.8 million in federal money heading to opioid treatment efforts in the state over the next two years. The hubs will be accompanied by a 24/7 hotline allowing New Hampshire residents to call “211” and get directed to treatment.

The $45.8 million in federal funding is twice what had been expected before last summer, due to a misunderstanding from the federal agency distributing the funds.

Despite that money, however, there is a huge cost of helping all those in New Hampshire with a drug addiction.

This year, the Concord office of Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, part of a statewide network of drug recovery centers, shut due to lack of money. Similar facilities in Franklin, Berlin and Manchester were able to stay open and the Claremont location was replaced by a new organization, TLC Family Resource Center. But in Concord, no contracts have been drawn, and no organizations have stepped forward to plug the gap.

The draft 10-year plan for New Hampshire’s mental health system released Nov. 20 envisions a regional hub-and-spoke model that provides access to a continuum of services, from prevention and early intervention to crisis and inpatient services. The approach is similar to how the state is combating the opioid crisis – people would call a central portal that would connect them to regional hubs where their needs would be assessed and services arranged.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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