Battle against opioid crisis persists

By Kyle Stucker

With New Hampshire on track to finish 2017 with fewer fatal drug overdoses than in 2016, leaders within the Seacoast’s recovery community say the data gives them both relief and frustration as they continue efforts to help individuals with substance use disorders.

The Seacoast area and the Granite State as a whole made a number of strides in 2017 to combat the opioid crisis and to increase access to treatment and services. Some of those efforts played roles in a modest statewide drop in fatal overdoses from 485 in 2016 to a projected 466 in 2017, which according to the state would be the first decrease since 2012.

However, to individuals like SOS Recovery Community Organization Director John Burns, it’s not enough when there are still hundreds of people dying each year and scores more are battling with the many factors that contribute to substance misuse.

“When you look at how many deaths, I cannot think of any other crisis that would cause the death of this many people that would be treated with such limited resources,” Burns has said. “To see that the numbers aren’t showing much improvement if any shouldn’t be a surprise.”

As of Dec. 7, substance use caused 350 confirmed deaths in New Hampshire, while another 89 cases were pending toxicology results, according to the state medical examiner’s office. Of those 350 confirmed cases, 144 were related to fentanyl, 102 to a combination of fentanyl and a non-heroin opiate, 14 to a combination of heroin and fentanyl, one to heroin, and 44 to other opiates and opioids.

New Hampshire has the highest fentanyl death rate in the country and is No. 2 in terms of the overall overdose death rate per capita, behind only West Virginia. Some officials attribute the number of fentanyl-related deaths to the history of New Hampshire’s opiate pain prescriptions. They also say, based on a new study of fentanyl users, that the drug, which is cheaper than heroin, has a shorter duration, in turn causing individuals to use more frequently to maintain the effect.

The state’s latest available 2017 figures show Strafford County, the state’s fourth largest county, has the second highest per capita drug overdose death rate of 4.39 deaths for every 10,000 of population. Rockingham County, the state’s second largest county, has a rate of 2.99.

Most police and fire departments in Strafford and Rockingham counties report the number of nonfatal and fatal overdoses in their communities were fairly steady in 2017, with some small increases and decreases.

Rochester is an outlier. Based on incomplete data through part of December, Police Capt. Jason Thomas said the number of nonfatal overdoses nearly doubled in the Lilac City from 121 in 2016 to 218 in 2017. However, the number of fatal overdoses only increased from 17 in 2016 to 20

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