Last week the Greater Derry Public Health Network, including all the towns in the Nutfield Publishing area, hosted a legislative breakfast to get people talking about substance abuse and its prevention.
And while talk is vital, it’s clear that action is long overdue.
The speakers noted, among other things, that New Hampshire is 49th out of the 50 states in providing substance abuse treatment. That raises some interesting questions, among them, how residents would react if New Hampshire were 49th – beaten by every state but Texas – in providing treatment for diabetes, or cancer, or heart disease.
It’s been a long struggle for people to accept alcoholism as a disease, rather than a personal weakness. We’re in the midst of a similar struggle in how we view substance abuse, and changing that viewpoint we must, as local and state officials repeatedly tell us that our towns are experiencing a heroin epidemic, and indeed, an overall drug abuse epidemic.
It wasn’t that long ago that a stigma was attached to other diseases and conditions. People didn’t talk about their ailments or those of their loved ones. Today we reserve that reticence – and embarrassment – for substance abuse, and we acknowledge the family of a Derry man who died of a heroin overdose the day after his birthday, and who made that public in an effort to help others learn from his illness so they do not have to face similar tragedy.
Local drug treatment officials explained that drug addiction is a chronic illness, not something a person can combat on his or her own. Parents and others were urged to seek out help and treatment, even though it may be difficult to access.
And just as we hear that obesity has costs to society as well as to the individual involved, so too, the costs of drug addiction are already shared by society at large. In addition to crimes committed to support a drug habit, Derry police and fire officials told the gathering that responding to an overdose call depletes resources available for other emergencies. In Derry, at least seven personnel respond to an overdose.
Derry had 79 overdoses in 2014, of which 49 were heroin related; 16 deaths occurred. In Londonderry last year, police responded to at least 100 overdose-related calls, almost all of them involving heroin or opiates.
The need for more local treatment beds is clear. As Tym Rourke, Director of Substance Use Disorders Grantmaking and Strategic Initiatives at New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, said, “treatment works but we just don’t have enough of it….You can pay for this epidemic and lack of treatment resources now or you can pay for it later.”