Democratic candidates faced off in Saturday’s debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Pre-event polling by WMUR-TV found drug abuse to be the leading issue facing Granite State residents as they prepared to hear candidate views on issues from rising college bills to lowering health care costs. This is the first time in seven years that the top concern locally has been something other than jobs and the economy. Driving public concern, deaths from heroin overdose has claimed 192 lives in the state, surpassing highway fatalities.
In 1914, it was estimated that around 200,000 Americans, or 1 in 4 people in the United States were dependent on opium or its derivatives. By 2011, that number for Americans aged 12 and over had increased to 4.2 million. Because opioids can block pain reception, they are popular among chronic pain management systems. However, approximately 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become addicted. Currently, Oxycontin and Vicodin are the most commonly abused drugs in the U.S., which have similar effects to heroin. Abusing opioids seems to be the gateway to heroin use. However, heroin is easier to obtain and costs less than prescription opioids.
According to a New Hampshire drug fact sheet on heroin, its use poses great risk for contracting HIV, Hepatitis, and other health problems. This exposure to other health threats affects the user and those with whom he or she interacts. “New Hampshire hospitals are recording significant increases in the number of babies being born with opiate withdrawal symptoms related to maternal drug use.” New Hampshire service organizations and government agencies are urging residents to get involved in prevention programs, early intervention, and making treatment accessible.
In March, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert in response to a surge in overdose deaths from heroin laced with the narcotic drug fentanyl, which is presently the most potent opioid approved for medical use.”
In June, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan signed a bill making Nalaxone (Narcan), available to medical professionals, police, and family and friends of users with an opioid abuse history. Naloxone is an emergency treatment that has been proven useful in reversing heroin effects in the event of an overdose, which has saved lives.
The narcotic morphine is the primary active chemical in opium. Heroin is made from morphine. When heroin enters the brain, it is reverted to the morphine chemical configuration and binds to opioid receptors, especially those related to pain and reward perception. Heroin overdose is commonly the result of respiratory suppression and diminished oxygen to the brain (hypoxia), which can cause minimal and severe psychological and neurological effects, including coma and permanent brain damage. These dangerous side effects are unfortunately overshadowed by the heroin user’s feeling of euphoria and or relaxation, which reinforces the user’s addictive behavior. Over time with continued use, heroin users can experience tolerance in which the body adapts to the presence of heroin and requires higher doses to achieve previous results. Dependence can also result from repeated use, manifesting withdrawal symptoms if regular use of the drug is interrupted.
The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that Heroin overdose is taking its toll in Manchester, its largest city. As many as three people have overdosed and died in the same day. According to Fire Chief James Burkush, the youngest person treated by firefighters was 16; the oldest was 69. Victims of heroin overdose have been found in hotels, public buildings, restaurants, parked vehicles and vehicles being driven (18 and 51 were the youngest and oldest fatalities, respectively). The problem is affecting the young and old. “We treated the same person seven times, reviving him with Narcan this calendar year,” Burkush said.
The New Hampshire drug epidemic is a major reason why Democratic Presidential Candidate and front-runner, Hillary Clinton gained a greater understanding of this growing problem. Her campaign announced in September of this year, a $10 billion plan to “combat America’s deadly epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction.” Boosting treatment and recovery programs, the plan equips First Responders to intervene in an overdose crisis and shifts focus from incarceration to treatment for users.
Clinton said of her plan, “It’s time we recognize that our state and federal prisons, where 65 percent of inmates meet medical criteria for substance use disorders, are no substitute for proper treatment…” Clinton’s proposal includes an incentive for states that propose a comprehensive plan for dealing with addiction: they can receive federal support at a ratio of $4 to $1 for every single dollar the state contributes. New Hampshire has an unprecedented opportunity to design and implement comprehensive treatment and drug use prevention where it is needed most.