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Monday, March 25, 2013

Substance abuse talk with regional poison call center sheds light on severe drug abuse in New Hampshire

CONCORD – Drugs killed nearly twice as many New Hampshire residents as car crashes in 2011, according to the Northern New England Poison Center, whose representatives said there were 200 drug-related deaths reported by the state medical examiner’s office that year.

Laurie Warnock, New Hampshire coordinator for the NNEPC, met with state health professionals and other experts last week at the Division of Public Health in honor of their “poison prevention week” to shed light on over-the-counter substances and their abuse. ...

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CONCORD – Drugs killed nearly twice as many New Hampshire residents as car crashes in 2011, according to the Northern New England Poison Center, whose representatives said there were 200 drug-related deaths reported by the state medical examiner’s office that year.

Laurie Warnock, New Hampshire coordinator for the NNEPC, met with state health professionals and other experts last week at the Division of Public Health in honor of their “poison prevention week” to shed light on over-the-counter substances and their abuse.

She said there are nearly 2.5 million poisoning calls placed every year nationally, and New Hampshire has approximately 10,000 reported poisonings every year. But the number of deaths has more than tripled from the 39 deaths in 1995 to 153 a decade later and to 174 in 2010. The NNEPC maintains this is due to the misuse, and abuse, of prescription medications as well as their growing popularity and availability.

“Many of us think of drug deaths as street drug deaths,” Warnock said. “ (But) we’re still seeing prescription drugs topping the list, including Oxycodone, Fentanyl and morphine.”

Prescription drug abuse is widely described as an epidemic in New Hampshire and across the country and is high on the list of concerns for doctors, pharmacists and substance-abuse treatment experts.

Warnock said that with the recent legislative session approving a statewide prescription drug monitoring program, making New Hampshire one of the last states to adopt such a program, second only to Missouri, advocates and experts hope this step will reduce the fatalities.

While chain pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid have typically monitored the issuing of prescriptions within their stores, Warnock said, those programs aren’t shared outside the company. A statewide monitoring program would regulate that, on top of several other issues including the abuse of animal medications by pet owners.

Additionally, Warnock said families exercise bad habits in front of their children when it comes to prescription pill handling. A person takes his or her spouse’s medication for pain openly, even without a prescription, she said, and costly pills are stored, rather than tossed, and then placed in unsecured locations like medicine cabinets in home bathrooms.

“We’ll deal with this over the next 10 or 15 years, especially in small town America,” Warnock said. “We’re not talking about the big cities.”

Warnock also pointed to other available substances, such as caffeine, cough syrup and “bath salts,” dangerous chemical compounds marketed falsely as bath salts and incense in convenience stores and online. When smoked, ingested or inhaled, the chemicals can cause psychotic behavior and severe physical symptoms.

Bath salts and “spice” of this sort were recently outlawed in the state, but Warnock said officials are preparing for a “new wave” of compounds to come forward from manufacturers. She said just one small adjustment to the chemical formulas can allow manufacturers to get around the law and provide a new unknown substance.

She warned those in attendance for the Concord lecture sponsored by University of New Hampshire’s Master of Public Health graduate program to be aware of substances considered benign, even Sharpie markers and 5-Hour Energy drinks now marketed towards young girls with Taylor Swift lookalikes on the bottles.

“We’re getting calls from school nurses, even day care providers, when little kids have gotten into the can of Red Bull that someone has left open on the counter or the little bottle of 5-Hour Energy,” she said. “It looks so cute ... so now they’re taking it.”

The state considered eliminating funding for the NNEPC services provided to New Hampshire last year, but the state put together approximately $600,000 of funding last summer, which will carry the service through July 1.

Based in Portland, Maine, the call center also serves Maine and Vermont.

Warnock says NNEPC provides a much needed service, where 70 percent of emergency calls placed to the poison control hotline are resolved at home, so hospitals and 911 lines remain clear. For every $1 spent, Warnock said, NNEPC saves the state approximately $13.47 in healthcare costs. If New Hampshire cannot find funding for the hotline this year, they will be the first state in the country to not provide this service to residents.

Samantha Allen can be reached at 594-6426 or sallen@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Allen on Twitter (@Telegraph_SamA).