Opioid overdoses down, meth use up

Telegraph photo by ADAM URQUHART Amherst Street Fire Station Capt. Jeff Allison and firefighter Phil MacCallum stand ready to provide help at their Safe Station for any addict looking to take that first step on their road to recovery.

NASHUA – For the first time since December 2015, Nashua saw no confirmed opioid-related fatalities in January, while non-fatal opioid overdoses for the month were at the lowest level since April 2017.

However, just as the community makes progress in the battle against fentanyl, heroin and other opioids, another drug is creating more concerns: methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth or simply meth.

“The unfortunate part about this epidemic, and about illicit drugs in general, is that the drug dealers tend to always be one or two or sometimes even more steps ahead of everybody else,” American Medical Response Regional Director Chris Stawasz said. “And what we see as the next coming, biggest threat is crystal meth.”

Opioid Overdoses

Stawasz said he believes the downward trend in opioid overdoses can be attributed to the wide availability of Narcan. In January, there were 15 opioid overdoses, whereas January 2018 experienced 21. Stawasz said he is seeing significant increases in the amount of public Narcan use by the year.

“It’s very encouraging – actually, it’s exciting news,” Nashua Fire Chief Brian Rhodes said. “I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination are we out of the woods, but I think it’s probably a combination of many things.”

Rhodes said looking at the response of the city, from law enforcement, to prevention, to the Safe Stations program, to the hospitals, he believes these positive statistics are a result of the coordination and collaboration of the whole community. He said there are a lot of variables playing a factor in this, but the city has been able to increase awareness and services.

“We are extremely hopeful and optimistic that (Gov. Chris Sununu’s) hub-and-spoke model is only going to enhance our program here, and open up more access to people,” Rhodes said.

Since Nashua officials implemented the Safe Stations program on Nov. 17, 2016, people have turned to this access point 2,644 times. Rhodes said the city has to keep moving that needle in a positive direction, while understanding there will probably be some bumps along the road.

“As long as we continue to collaborate and continue to investigate or enhance the services that we have, and increase those, I think that can only lead to positive outcomes in the future,” Rhodes said.

Stawasz said the city’s main goal is to save lives, and starting off the new year with no deaths is encouraging. As with Rhodes, he also said this will not last forever, but it is a nice piece of good news for those who work hard each day to make a difference.

“The opioid crisis over these last four years has hit the state of New Hampshire like a fast-moving freight train where it’s kind of run over communities and families and businesses and systems that just weren’t all that prepared for it,” Partnership for Successful Living President and CEO Peter Kelleher said.

“I think Nashua and Manchester, who have conducted Safe Stations programs, have shown that when communities come together to really engage in a compassionate, respectful manner with people who are needing treatment and help from this – and Narcan and everything else that goes along with it – can have an impact,” Kelleher added.

Meth

Stawasz said meth is one of the scariest illicit drugs. Unlike opioids, Narcan will not have any effect on a meth user. Stawasz said people under the influence of meth tend to be extremely violent. He also said it creates a huge risk to the people who are going to care for these folks. If the city continues to see an increase in meth use, as other areas of the country have seen, Stawasz said it will put a whole new face on this crisis.

“I think from, our viewpoint, opioids are still pretty high in the overall percentage of what we’re seeing, but the wedge that’s involving meth is definitely growing,” Kelleher said.

Kelleher said meth is not the majority of what they are seeing, but estimated that it is probably in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent. Stawasz said there is more meth on the street than there ever has been and it’s on the rise.