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Monday, December 31, 2012

Addiction to strong narcotic pain-killers killing more

By many measures, 2012 was a year that saw, if not new, a newly recognized threat to the health and safety of New Hampshire’s teens and young adults brought to the forefront.

Addiction to prescription drugs in Nashua and throughout New Hampshire has outstripped addiction and overdose deaths to other more familiar so-called street drugs such as cocaine and heroin, according to officials. It’s this addiction to powerful narcotic pain killers like oxycodone, Percocet
and fentynol that are killing more people and sending addicts in droves to doctor’s offices and emergency rooms seeking these narcotics. These addicts also are filling up beds at treatment centers like Keystone Hall in Nashua. ...

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By many measures, 2012 was a year that saw, if not new, a newly recognized threat to the health and safety of New Hampshire’s teens and young adults brought to the forefront.

Addiction to prescription drugs in Nashua and throughout New Hampshire has outstripped addiction and overdose deaths to other more familiar so-called street drugs such as cocaine and heroin, according to officials. It’s this addiction to powerful narcotic pain killers like oxycodone, Percocet
and fentynol that are killing more people and sending addicts in droves to doctor’s offices and emergency rooms seeking these narcotics. These addicts also are filling up beds at treatment centers like Keystone Hall in Nashua.

A piece of good news is that New Hampshire became the 49th state to pass legislation establishing a prescription monitoring program, a system that experts say is a vital tool for doctors and pharmacists to better track what prescriptions patients already have. Gov. John Lynch signed the bill into law in June.

The bill puts the onus to design and administer the program on the shoulders of the state Board of Pharmacy and dictates that anyone who prescribes or dispenses certain prescription drugs must register with and use the program.

“This is a tool, not a magic bullet, that, based on the experience of other states, will make a difference here,” said Tricia Lucas, advocacy director at New Futures in Manchester.

The Board of Pharmacy has not yet unveiled a plan to implement the prescription monitoring program.

The need is obvious. One in five high school students say they had taken prescription drugs – such as oxycodone, Xanax or Adderall – without a prescription in the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The annual milligram-per-person intake of opioids, such as oxycodone, increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams from 1997-2007, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The number of people who entered state-funded substance abuse treatment for oxycodone increased by more than 60 percent, making oxycodone the second most prevalent drug of choice behind alcohol. The state medical examiner’s office reported that drug overdose deaths have tripled since 2000, to 174 in 2010. Of those overdoses victims, 44 percent had methadone or oxycodone, or both, in their systems, according to data from the medical examiner’s office. About 20 percent of those were determined to be suicides by intentional overdose.

The statistics go on and on – the explosion of powerful narcotic medications, particularly opiate-based pain relievers such as Vicodin and Percocet, isn’t a flash in the pan.

In June, The Telegraph published a six-day series that looked behind those numbers and talked to recovering addicts, police, doctors, social workers, treatment experts and pharmacists about the prescription drug plague.

Like Meghan Morrissey. In June, Morrissey was one of the pregnant or new mothers at Keystone Hall’s Cynthia Day Family Center. While The Telegraph’s series was being published, she gave birth to her second child, a healthy baby daughter.

That she was healthy was a bit of luck. Morrissey entered the treatment center addicted to prescription pain killers. She had already lost custody of her first daughter.

“I didn’t want this life anymore. I said ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be in my daughter’s life.’ ”

There was Scott O’Neil. A former Nashua High School North star athlete who left a college athletic career and spiraled into a deep addiction.

O’Neil is now a recovered addict and works at Teen Challenge in Manchester, a faith-based treatment program where he went to fight his chemical demons.

“I felt trapped inside a box. When you’re that addicted, you feel trapped. I was at a crossroads in my life. I knew I needed help,” he said.

There was Nashua Police Lt. David Bailey. Bailey, who previously spent time as a narcotics detective arresting people with heroin and cocaine, recently took over the narcotics bureau.

“I started looking at the cases. Everything was pills, especially Oxycontin and hydrocodone,” he said. “It seems like everybody is involved in selling pills.

Efforts to battle the epidemic continue, of course. The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to hold Prescription Drug Take Back Days twice a year and have collected tens of thousands of tons of expired, unused and otherwise unwanted prescription drugs.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Cote
on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).