Shaheen Hosts Meeting on Regional Approach to Heroin Epidemic

Derry Police Chief Ed Garone remembered a recent conversation he had with a probation officer. “She told me 50 percent of her clients are heroin users,” he said. It didn’t surprise Derry’s top cop, who said, “We arrested a heroin addict in September and that led us to solve 15 burglaries.”

They are coming in on Interstate 93, I-95, and slipping over the border from Vermont. Heroin dealers and users are at an all-time high in New Hampshire. And on Wednesday, April 16, Garone and other area police chiefs met in Derry with U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, to talk about a regional approach to an epidemic that is spreading.

Garone’s department hosted the roundtable meeting, which included local chiefs, the New Hampshire State Police and the Rockingham and Strafford County sheriffs’ departments.

They discussed manpower, money and the social costs, which are numerous, Raymond Police Chief David Salois pointed out, adding, “It has tentacles…it leads to family domestic abuse, overdoses.”

Brian McCarthy, a lieutenant representing the Pelham department, said their two biggest issues are break-ins and the number of overdoses, and the biggest issue facing them is manpower. “We are a two-detective department,” he said. Pelham is also a border community, and addicts frequently commit their crimes in the small community, then go back to Massachusetts to purchase the drug.

That’s changing and not for the better, Claremont chief Alex Scott said. While the state saw a heroin “wave” in the 1990s, today’s usage and users are different in two ways, he said. “In the ‘90s the genesis of the drugs was still south of us, with couriers running back and forth,” he said. “Now, the gangs from New Jersey are setting up shop in Vermont.” Also, he said, sentences have been reduced. Heroin addiction is the “primary driver of our property crimes,” he said.

There’s a definite shortage of personnel when it comes to fighting this epidemic, police agreed.

Several departments are using a substance called Narcan to bring addicts back from an overdose. The drug, active for 30 to 90 minutes, can block opiods from attaching to opiod receptors in the brain. The generic name is naloxone.

“I support it,” Dave Dubois of the Strafford County State Police said. But it depends. “Here, you have to be careful,” he said. “I’d have no problem with Dover, Rochester and Somersworth they have competent paramedics who would be able to administer it. The other parts of the county, I’m not so sure. One size does not always fit all.”

Salois said he’s heard of a device similar to an Epi-pen that will administer Narcan. “I’m all for Narcan if it can save a life,” he said.

Shaheen noted that she had heard similar stories in a Salem roundtable last week.

She listed the challenges as follows:

• Users and dealers coming over the border;

• A lack of services (there are 120,000 estimated addicts in New Hampshire and 6,000 treatment “slots”); and

• A decrease in funding for said services.

“There is no one silver bullet,” Shaheen said. “We need a combination of education, treatment and law enforcement.”

Deirdre Boulter, an analyst with the New Hampshire Information and Analysis Center, gave a statistical presentation of heroin use in New Hampshire over the past six years. Men ages 20 to 29 had the highest number of heroin-related deaths, 59, and the highest number in 2013, 15. But males ages 50 to 59 showed the largest increase between 2012 and 2013, with an increase from 0 in 2012 to 13 in 2013. Men in general have seen a 65 percent increase in heroin-related deaths from 2012 to 2013, with an increase from 26 deaths to 43. Women saw a large increase from 2010 to 2011, but only an increase from two to three incidents from 2012 to 2013.

Hillsborough County had the highest number of heroin-related deaths over the six-year period, 86; and the highest number in 2013 alone, 19.

Shaheen said she became interested in the problem as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She is on the Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee, which is responsible for grants, she said, noting she would look into getting more funding for New Hampshire. She’ll also look into revamping grants that are available now. For example, she said, “The COPS grant doesn’t support drug enforcement. We need to look at the language.”

While the local police and state troopers advocated more cooperation between communities, Shaheen said she would talk with the Senators from Vermont and Maine for a better-coordinated effort among Northern New England states.

“It’s an epidemic. Don’t call it anything else,” McCarthy said.

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