Strafford County at the epicenter of Opioid Crisis

SOMERSWORTH — The fourth largest county in the state has the second biggest opioid problem, according to the recent state figures.
The New Hampshire Drug Monitoring Initiative, a state reporting system that draws information from law enforcement, EMS and public health released a final report for 2016 as well as the latest monthly reports and Strafford County ranks second only to Hillsborough County.
Strafford County had a per capita rate of 4.39 deaths per 10,000 of population. Rockingham County, which is nearly three times the size of Strafford, had a rate of 2.99 according to the medical examiner’s office.
The latest 2017 figures show Strafford County still has the second highest suspected drug use resulting in overdose deaths.
Fentanyl is still the dominant killer and responsible for a majority of deaths, while cocaine is increasing.
Strafford County is the highest in the state for administering Narcan, the overdose reversal drug.

John Burns, of SOS Recovery, said the figures are not surprising because resources for the infrastructure needed are not being provided at a level that is consistent with the magnitude of the problem.

“There is nothing that is surprising,” Burns said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people were expecting it would turn around quickly when frankly just getting some of the rates to level off is progress.”

“I haven’t seen a single initiative since President Trump took office, other than talk,” Burns said. “At the state level, we doubled the alcohol fund but there was emergency funding included in the last biennium.”

He said without the added emergency funding the state essentially flat-funded the problem.

Burns said workforce issues continue to hamper recovery efforts. Because there was no funding for treatment, centers closed and workers moved on, now as they return to the workforce this is still a long licensing process.

“You can build all the treatment centers you want, but if you don’t have a workforce to man them that is problematic and that has been a challenge,” Burns said. “Across the spectrum, recovery supports receive minimal funding.

According to Burns, the state and country have gone decades without providing the resources needed and opioid addiction has reached a crisis point and it is not going to turn around quickly.

“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 resource,” Burns said. “To see that the numbers aren’t showing much improvement it any shouldn’t be a surprise.”

Burns said it is frustrating for those on the front lines to hear all the talk and see such a lack of action, but it is important to note the problem has gotten some attention.

“Here in New Hampshire we have a recovery community and providers and the boots on the ground,” he said. “You are probably not going to find more resourceful, creative and collaborative teams anywhere as you do particularly in Strafford County. When you look at what we are working with, some of the stuff that is going on, it blows my mind and I wonder how we are even pulling off what we are pulling off. It is a testimony to the recovery community, the prevention and treatment as well, who are just so dedicated.”

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