Pubdate: Wed, 25 Nov 2015
Source: Concord Monitor (NH)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Holly Ramer, Associated Press


Drug overdoses have become the second most common cause of death in 
New Hampshire and could move into the top spot soon, Gov. Maggie 
Hassan told lawmakers Tuesday as they began tackling the state's 
substance abuse crisis.

Hassan was the first speaker to address a task force that will spend 
the next six weeks studying the issue and developing bills the 
Legislature will consider when its new session starts in January. She 
urged members to consider several proposals, include strengthening 
the state's prescription monitoring program, reducing the 
over-prescription of powerful pain medication, providing additional 
support to law enforcement, and streamlining access to substance 
abuse treatment and recovery services.

"There may be some who say we can't afford to invest in these steps. 
I say we can't afford not to," she said. "Every month we lose dozens 
of our fellow citizens, our families lose loved ones and our 
businesses lose valuable workers. Our future shrinks before us. We 
must act now."

Drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire climbed from 192 in 2013 to 326 
last year, and nearly 300 have died so far this year. Hassan cited 
2013 and 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention that show deaths from overdoses exceeding deaths from 
motor vehicle crashes, diabetes, kidney disease and several common 
cancers. If all cancer deaths are combined, they exceed overdose deaths.

"If current trends continue, overdoses will likely overtake 
Alzheimer's as the leading cause of death in our state," she said.

The task force also heard from law enforcement officials, medical 
providers and those involved in substance abuse treatment and recovery.

Tym Rourke of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation urged the task 
force to look beyond the specific drugs that have risen to the 
forefront and enact legislation that would address the state's larger 
problems with alcohol and substance abuse. He described hearing from 
a distraught mother in 1995 struggling to find treatment for her 
daughter who lamented, "I would have to dig my daughter out of a 
ditch dead before anybody in the state of New Hampshire would care."

"This crisis is not new," said Rourke, who also leads the Governor's 
Commission on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and 
Recovery. "Why is it in New Hampshire and New England and not in 
other parts of the country? Is it cultural? Is it financing? Is it 
'Live Free or Die?' Who knows. What I do know is our collective 
response to this epidemic for the last 30 years has been inadequate."

Building a prevention and treatment system that addresses only the 
opioid epidemic is the wrong approach, he said.

"We will get through this, and there will be something else on the 
other side," he said. "We need to finally build a system that 
addresses the state's drug and alcohol epidemic, and stop digging ditches."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom