Pubdate: Sun, 01 Nov 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Katharine Q. Seelye, the New York Times


NEWTON, N.H. - When Courtney Griffin was using heroin, she lied, 
disappeared and stole constantly from her parents to support her 
$400-a-day habit. Her family paid her debts, never filed a police 
report and kept her addiction secret - until she was found dead last 
year of an overdose. At Courtney's funeral, they decided to 
acknowledge the reality that redefined their lives: Their bright, 
beautiful daughter, only 20, who played the French horn in high 
school and dreamed of living in Hawaii, had been kicked out of the 
Marines over drugs. Eventually, she overdosed at her boyfriend's 
grandmother's house, where she died alone.

"When I was a kid, junkies were the worst," Doug Griffin, 63, 
Courtney's father, recalled in their comfortable home in southeastern 
New Hampshire. "I used to have an office in New York City. I saw them."

Noting that junkies is a word he would never use now, he said that 
these days, "they're working right next to you, and you don't even 
know it. They're in my daughter's bedroom - they are my daughter."

When the nation's long-running war against drugs was defined by the 
crack-cocaine epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban 
areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff 
prison sentences.

But today's heroin crisis is different.

Although heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has 
skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin 
for the first time in the past decade were white.

And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin - many of 
them in the suburbs and small towns - now are using their influence, 
anger and grief to cushion the country's approach to drugs, from 
altering the language around addiction to prodding government to 
treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.

"Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more 
middle class, these are parents who are empowered," said Michael 
Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug 
Control Policy, better known as the nation's drug czar. "They know 
how to call a legislator, they know how to get angry with their 
insurance company, they know how to advocate. They have been so 
instrumental in changing the conversation."

The presidential candidates of both parties are now talking about the 
drug epidemic, with Hillary Clinton holding forums on the issue as 
Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina tell their stories of loss while calling 
for more care and empathy.

Recently, President Barack Obama traveled to West Virginia, a mostly 
white state with a high level of overdoses, to discuss his $133 
million proposal to expand access to drug-treatment and -prevention programs.

The Justice Department also is in the process of releasing about 
6,000 inmates from federal prisons as part of an effort to roll back 
the severe penalties issued to nonviolent drug dealers in decades past.

The new terrain

Heroin's spread into the suburbs and small towns grew out of an 
earlier wave of addiction to prescription painkillers; together, the 
two trends are ravaging the country.

Deaths from heroin rose to 8,260 in 2013, quadrupling since 2000 and 
aggravating what some already were calling the worst drug-overdose 
epidemic in U.S. history.

Overall, drug overdoses now cause more deaths than car crashes do. 
Opioids such as OxyContin and other pain medications kill 44 people a day.

In New England, the epidemic has grabbed officials by the lapels.

The region's old industrial cities, quiet small towns and rural 
outposts are seeing a near-daily parade of drug summit meetings, task 
forces, vigils against heroin, pronouncements from lawmakers and news 
reports on the heroin crisis.

New Hampshire is typical of the hardest-hit states. Last year, 325 
people died of opioid overdoses, a 68 percent increase from the year 
before. Potentially hundreds more deaths were averted by emergency 
medical workers, who last year administered naloxone, a medication 
that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, in more than 1,900 cases.

Adding to the anxiety and anger among parents, the state also ranks 
second-to-last, ahead only of Texas, in access to treatment programs; 
New Hampshire has about 100,000 people in need of treatment, state 
officials say, but the state's publicly financed system can serve 
only 4 percent of them.

Because New Hampshire holds the first-in-the-nation presidential 
primary, residents repeatedly have raised the issue of heroin with 
the 2016 candidates.

Clinton still recalls her surprise that the first question she was 
asked in April, at her first open meeting in New Hampshire as a 
candidate, was not about the economy or health care, but heroin.

Last month, she laid out a $10 billion plan to combat and treat drug 
addiction over the next decade.

Many of the Republican candidates for president have heard similar 
stories, and they are sharing their own.

"I have some personal experience with this as a dad, and it is the 
most heartbreaking thing in the world to have to go through," Jeb 
Bush, the former governor of Florida, said at a town-hall style 
meeting in Merrimack, N.H., in August. His daughter, Noelle, was 
jailed twice while in rehab, for being caught with prescription pills 
and accused of having crack cocaine.

All this activity has helped create what Timothy Rourke, the chairman 
of the New Hampshire Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 
said is a perfect storm for change, not unlike the confluence of 
events that finally produced a response to the AIDS epidemic. "You 
have a lot of people dying, it's no longer just 'those people,' " he 
said. "You have people with lived experience demanding better 
treatment, and you have really good data."

And, he said, policymakers know that on top of everything else, 
substance abuse has become an economic issue. A recent report said 
the annual cost to New Hampshire in lost productivity, treatment and 
jail time is $1.8 billion.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom