Groups Come Together for Opiate Drug Forum in Derry

Several local organizations joined forces to host a forum titled “Our Children and the Opiate Crisis,” with more than 100 residents attending.

The forum took place Wednesday evening, Oct.  7, at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry.

Governor Maggie Hassan, one of the keynote speakers, discussed the need to continue to approach this issue from all sides. She cited funding that has been received to help local law enforcement partner with the New Hampshire State Police, mentioned new treatment facilities opening to begin to increase the state’s capacity to serve residents, and noted the need for the legislature to approve Medicaid expansion beyond 2017 so that rehabilitation services could be covered and providers could expand services with the confidence that payment would be available. And she reinforced the need for awareness and prevention programs like the Partnership for a Drug Free New Hampshire’s Check the Stats campaign, as well as prevention and education efforts going on around the state at events such as this one.

Laurie Warnock, education coordinator for the New England Poison Center, spoke about how youngsters, especially young athletes, can take prescription drugs for an injury and then go on from using them to handle pain to using them for fun.

After marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders in the past year, she noted. On the street they find cheaper alternatives such as heroin and heroin laced with fentanyl.

Warnock said New Hampshire had 325 heroin deaths in 2014. No one starts with heroin, she said, but noted it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription drugs, and the dangers escalate when heroin has been laced with fentanyl.

There is no “typical” user, she said. And while treatment works, access to treatment may be limited, with families or individuals having difficulty finding the right program at the right time.

“Drug abuse is a lifelong battle,” she said. “Finding a living environment conducive to sobriety can be a challenge.”

Warnock also discussed Narcan (Naloxone), saying this drug can be given as an IV, inter-muscularly, or intranasal and works quickly to block the opioid receptors in the brain. She cited two new New Hampshire laws, HB 270 and HB 271 – the first providing immunity from criminal prosecution to a person who reports a drug-related emergency and the second providing Narcan for public use by allowing a health professional to prescribe it to a person at risk of experiencing an overdose, and to allow it to be given to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist a person experiencing an opioid-related overdose.

The dangers of smoking and using e-cigarettes were also discussed by Warnock. She said e-cigarette use among teens has tripled from 2013 to 2014 and studies indicate those using e-cigarettes are almost twice as likely to have intentions to smoke conventional cigarettes.

She told the audience that studies indicate that almost two-thirds of high school seniors don’t view regular use of marijuana as harmful, almost double the number 20 years ago. She warned that much of the e-cigarette and synthetic marijuana – aka spice or K2 – and things such as bath salts – can be learned about on the Internet and come in many forms, and described what parents should be looking for. She also discussed Molly, the new street name for the drug Ecstasy, a synthetic stimulant/hallucinogenic.

Warnock listed warning signs parents should be aware of: missing prescription drugs, borrowing or missing money, sudden change of friends, secrecy about activities, decline in quality of work and increase in school absences, poor appearance and hygiene, use of incense or odor neutralizers or perfume, evidence of pipes and rolling papers and baggies, and empty cough syrup containers, aerosols, spray air with bags or rags.

Warnock reminded the audience about the drug disposal offered at local police stations on Take Back Days and said if that is unavailable, people should remove drugs from the original containers and mix them with used coffee grounds or kitty litter and seal them securely in a plastic bag placed in household trash. She cautioned against flushing them down the toilet.

A panel discussion and question and answer period followed the keynote speakers.

Sponsors of the forum included the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry, Parkland Medical Center, Community Alliance for Teen Safety (CATS), Pinkerton Academy, Center for Life Management, Greater Derry Public Health Network, and The Partnership for a Drug Free New Hampshire.

The panel discussion included Dr. Patti Shea, Director of Clinical Operations at Hampstead Hospital; Dr. Chris Peterson, Chief of Pediatrics at Parkland Medical Center; Lila Mazzola, a local parent; Susan McKeown, Family Support Coordinator for the New Hampshire Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative; and, Pam Santa Fe, Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator for the Greater Derry Regional Public Health Network.