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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Calling attention to addictions

Telegraph Editorial

Two years ago The Telegraph published a six-part series entitled “Addiction Epidemic,” exploring the alarming rise in the abuse of prescription painkillers. We interviewed law enforcement officials, treatment counselors, former addicts, parents whose children died from drug overdoses or who were struggling to get or keep their children straight, and many others.

The opinion was unanimous: Prescription drug abuse had become a crisis and New Hampshire wasn’t doing enough to address the problem. Prescription orders weren’t being tracked. Police did not have enough properly trained officers to deal with consequences on the street. The court system did not have the resources to develop alternative sentencing strategies to get addicts help, instead of locking them up. There were not enough affordable treatment facilities to handle all the people in need of assistance. ...

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Two years ago The Telegraph published a six-part series entitled “Addiction Epidemic,” exploring the alarming rise in the abuse of prescription painkillers. We interviewed law enforcement officials, treatment counselors, former addicts, parents whose children died from drug overdoses or who were struggling to get or keep their children straight, and many others.

The opinion was unanimous: Prescription drug abuse had become a crisis and New Hampshire wasn’t doing enough to address the problem. Prescription orders weren’t being tracked. Police did not have enough properly trained officers to deal with consequences on the street. The court system did not have the resources to develop alternative sentencing strategies to get addicts help, instead of locking them up. There were not enough affordable treatment facilities to handle all the people in need of assistance.

Since then, some things have gotten a little better and other things have gotten worse.

Most discouraging is that the drug problem is more serious than ever – as demonstrated by the recent well-documented spike in heroin overdoses and deaths. As access to prescription drugs became more difficult, people have turned to heroin because it was available and comparatively inexpensive.

In an unfortunate sign of the times, Gov. Maggie Hassan announced in April that the state’s Medical Control Board approved a measure to allow emergency medical technicians to give overdose victims Narcan, a “narcotic antagonist,” which halts overdose symptoms, almost instantly reviving addicts who may otherwise die.

On the good side, Hassan reported earlier this month that the state had secured a grant to start its prescription drug monitoring program that has been stalled for two years because of a lack of funding. It was announced last month that two drug courts would be coming to Hillsborough County, in Nashua and Manchester.

Of course, heroin and prescription drug abuse are only part of the issue. Where there is a will to get high there is probably also a way, be it by bath salts, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and, of course, alcohol.

Today we continue our commitment to calling attention to the issues surrounding drug addiction with a new feature that will appear the fourth Sunday of each month called Addiction Epidemic: Prevention. We hope the news and information provided each month will help focus attention on addiction issues and better educate people to find ways to fight back.

We are especially excited about Addiction Epidemic: Prevention because we are teaming with the Partnership for a Drug Free New Hampshire to make it happen. The group is committed to preventing drug abuse as early in a person’s life as possible. Its website www.checkthestatsnh.org is committed to providing information about the drug and alcohol problems facing New Hampshire’s young people.

Each month the special page will examine a particular aspect of drug abuse, focusing on young people.

For the opening installment on page D-1, we look at alcohol abuse here. The numbers are shocking.

New Hampshire residents from between 12 and 20 years old rank second in the nation in alcohol usage and binge drinking, according to the National Survey for Drug Use and Health. It is estimated that, in 2010, underage drinking cost the state $209 million.

According to the New Hampshire 2013 Youth Risk & Behavior Survey, 32.9 percent of high school students had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more occasions in the past 30 days and 17.3 percent had five or more drinks in a row in the past 30 days.

Our hope is that by offering more exposure to facts and exploring methods to address them, we expand public discussion and awareness.