The Town of Derry is actively involved in the efforts to fight the spread of drug abuse, especially heroin.
Pamela Santa Fe, Substance Misuse Coordinator for the Greater Derry Public Health Network, spoke at the Aug. 4 Town Council meeting on efforts in town and around the region to combat what is widely becoming known as an epidemic.
Santa Fe based her talk off an already-written report she will submit to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Bureau of Substance Misuse Prevention in Concord.
Part of the effort includes gathering data, and Santa Fe has used the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBC) from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as her primary collection tool. The survey questions teens on at-risk behavior including alcohol use, tobacco use, fruit and vegetable consumption, and sexual behavior, using a 30-day window.
Santa Fe has also formed a Substance Misuse Task Force.
Pinkerton Academy does its own data collection based on a 2005 version of the YRBC, Santa Fe said, and they analyze the results in-house. In the past they have not shared their data, she said, but in her last year, former Headmaster Mary Anderson did so with Santa Fe.
“We can’t use their data because it isn’t in line with the current CDC survey,” Santa Fe said. She has been working with current Headmaster Griffin Morse and hopes he will share the data as Anderson did, she said.
But Pinkerton is in the game, holding its own community heroin forum last year. The Derry Public Library also sponsored a forum, according to Santa Fe, who said the library utilized Derry Police, Derry Fire and Parkland Medical Center personnel.
“From the Pinkerton event we learned that parents are demanding to know more,” she said. “The library event was a small gathering but very emotional. We heard from parents in the throes of this, who have lost loved ones and demanded action on the state level and more resources.”
Marijuana use has increased among teens and children, Santa Fe said, with the perception of harm decreasing from 52 percent to 23 percent. “This is not the marijuana of yesterday,” she said, but is a great deal more powerful.
The legalization of marijuana in some states and the use of “therapeutic cannabis” has sent a mixed message to young people, she added.
The common theme in all the forums and coming out of the Task Force is that both parent awareness and community involvement are lacking, she said.
Pinkerton is fighting back with its Life Of an Athlete program co-sponsored by the New Hampshire Interstate Athletic Association and New Hampshire School Boards Association, which focuses on alerting student athletes to a healthy lifestyle.
She is involved in a Workplace Awareness Initiative with local businesses, and her Task Force sponsored a Legislative Breakfast for 25 state legislators in which they addressed the drug problem.
The Task Force has also developed cards with information on resources for substance abuse and other at-risk behavior, and police officers and first responders can leave these on calls, she said.
Town Councilor Joshua Bourdon, attending the meeting by speaker phone, expressed concern that Pinkerton was not using the most up-to-date survey from the CDC. Santa Fe said she had spoken with Morse, who told her they were using the older survey because they wanted to have “linear data” and compare with data from past surveys.
“It’s the largest high school in the state, and it’s imperative that they work with the community,” Bourdon said. “if you’re not fighting this fight with current ideas, it’s not efficient.”
But Santa Fe said Pinkerton is committed to working with the community and has planned a public Substance Misuse Forum for Oct. 7 at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry. “They are engaged,” she said.
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores asked about the use of Narcan, and Police Chief Edward Garone said while his officers do not carry the overdose-preventing substance, Derry Fire paramedics do and “have for some time.” The medical personnel usually arrive at almost the same time as the police officers, he said, adding that his officers are trained in Narcan if they ever have to use it.
Garone gave some statistics compiled by his department. From Jan. 1 to July 15 of this year, drug overdoses have more than doubled, from 34 in 2014 to 71 in 2015, he said. Of those overdoses, in 2014 24 were the result of heroin or another opiate, compared with 40 this year attributed to heroin or another opiate.
Last year in this same period there were nine deaths, compared with five so far this year, he said.
“Are we prepared?” Katsakiores asked.
“We are doing the best we can,” Garone said. “These cases are extremely time-consuming, costly in person-hours, and involve other agencies, including Federal agencies.” He has two detectives working mostly on drug cases, though they have recently added other work to their workloads, he said.
Santa Fe said the YRBS is good for spotting long-term issues. One school lost a student to suicide in middle school, and by the time his/her classmates reached 11th grade, there were significant mental health issues among the group. “They were able to bring in mental health counselors and other resources, and ‘amp it up,’” she said.
Santa Fe also spoke at a joint session with personnel from Parkland Medical Center and the Center For Life Management, Derry’s community hospital and outpatient mental health provider respectively. “They wanted to discuss where we’re going and how they can help,” she said, and the result is that she’s working with the two agencies to compile a booklet of available services.
Her ultimate goal is to identify a “continuum of care,” from prevention to treatment to recovery. “It’s important that we all come together and work on this,” she said.