There is no doubt that drugs are a problem throughout the United States, particularly in light of the opiate painkiller and heroin epidemic. Some states, though, are harder hit than others. New Hampshire is a small state with a big heroin problem.
Cheap, plentiful heroin is helping to fuel the growing numbers of addicts in the state. People from all walks of life are affected. Hospital emergency rooms are seeing record numbers of overdoses. Teens, suburbanites, middle-aged professionals, you name it. No one is immune from the problem.
What Is Being Done About It?
The problem is getting attention. And, with elections looming ahead, candidates and officials are coming up with solutions right and left — no doubt hoping to get votes. After all, there aren’t many people who haven’t been touched by this problem.
The one positive note here is that the rampant heroin use by middle-class kids and adults has at least forced politicians and community members to address the problem publicly. It can’t stay in the shadows anymore.
Not only that, but candidates and politicians are coming forward to talk about how addiction has impacted their lives, and the lives of their families.
Fortunately, the talk is generally of how to provide help for those suffering from addiction, rather than talk of punitive action. This is good, because for many years, the war on drugs had people getting locked up for their addiction, instead of getting help. Years of this only fueled the problem, as it took sick people, jailed them and turned them into criminals, often coming out of jails and prisons with bigger drug problems than they had when they went in. The criminalization of addiction is still an issue though, and that is what needs to be worked on.
Problems Being Faced Right Now
The first problem is immediate need. People are dying. The heroin on the streets right now is powerful, and often cut with Fentanyl — considered more potent than heroin — and responsible for an increasing amount of deaths due to overdose.
Residential treatment programs are being stretched to their limits, with people having to wait weeks for a bed. Unfortunately, people who are addicted to heroin are just one dose away from death, so waiting weeks for a bed could cost them their life.
Increased funding for treatment is one solution, and an important one at that. But what else can be done? And what is being proposed?
Jeb Bush has talked at length about his plans to increase sentencing for drug traffickers and reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. This sounds good, but does it really help the current problem? Drug trafficking is certainly an issue. The heroin supply shows no sign of slowing down, but there’s more to it than that.
The Connection Between Heroin And Prescription Opiates
For many people, heroin is an inexpensive alternative to the opiate painkillers they have become addicted to. Once the prescription runs out, an addicted person has no choice but to purchase pills on the street if they want to avoid getting sick. This can quickly become expensive, with just one Oxycontin pill costing more than several doses of heroin.
While the prescription painkiller epidemic isn’t the only reason heroin use has gone up, it is certainly a factor.
It’s a double-edged sword. People get hooked on these pills, but thanks to new regulations, they can’t just keep getting unlimited refills. They get cut off by regulations meant to curb abuse, but it backfires when they go out and get heroin.
Cutting Away Ignorance And Stigma
No one would argue that this epidemic is a tragedy, and that New Hampshire is struggling with a frightening reality as death rates rise and lives are shattered. But if we are to take something positive out of this, it is that the public at large is being forced to examine their preconceived notions about what an addict is, and what he or she looks like. Also, people are starting to understand that the recovery community is alive and well and a force to be reckoned with.
As Holly Cekala, director of recovery services at HOPE for New Hampshire Recovery in Manchester spoke about her own recovery to an audience that included Republican candidate Chris Christie and stated: “Every single day of my life I try to give back because I am alive and grateful. There’s 23 million of me out there that are like that, too. And we all vote.” This powerful statement, lets candidates know that while the numbers of people who are struggling with addiction are rising, so are the number of people in recovery who care deeply about this issue, and who are looking for candidates who can take some real action, not just make token promises.
It will be interesting to see how the next elected officials proceed. Will they help create real change? Will they address the needs of those who are struggling with addiction, and work to destigmatize and decriminalize it? Will they work to improve access to treatment for all residents? Only time will tell.