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BERLIN — Calling heroin and opioid abuse a national emergency, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said she was pleased to see the collaborative approach the Berlin-Gorham region is taking to tackle the problem.
“This is a multifaceted problem and we have to respond to each facet,” she said.
Roughly two dozen community leaders, school officials, law enforcement, health and social service providers, first responders, clergy and a student representative attended a round table discussion with Shaheen last Friday afternoon, Jan. 8, at Berlin High School.
Shaheen said the federal government appropriated an additional $159 million for federal programs targeting the epidemic.
Berlin City Manager James Wheeler told Shaheen the problem strikes at the base of the community. The Rev. Kyle Stanton, pastor of Good Shepherd and Holy Family parishes,said he and the Rev. Andrew Nelson started preaching on the issue a year ago. Nelson said many families and neighborhoods are broken. Shaheen said she was pleased to see the involvement of the faith community.
Kristy Letendre, director of alcohol and drug treatment for the Tri-County Community Action Program, said the organization’s 15-bed Friendship House is the only in-patient treatment facility north of Franklin. She said TCCAP would like to add detox beds but money is a stumbling block.  Letendre said the region also needs more licensed professionals.
Charlie Cotton, director of Northern Human Services, said behavioral issues and substance abuse go hand-in-hand. He said outpatient treatment has expanded but told Shaheen “there is a horrible lack of residential treatment beds.”
Cotton said a drug court paired with court diversion would help to keep people out of jail and into treatment. Shaheen said $42 million, an increase of $1 million, has been allocated for state and local drug courts.
State Police Troop F Cmdr. Gary Price said drug prevention efforts should target even preschoolers because many users started when they were young. He said what is really killing users is the drug fentanyl, which is far more powerful than heroin.
Robert Thompson, manager of Project AWARE, spoke about the impact of the federal funded program on Berlin. One effort is the Youth Leadership Through Adventure which stresses positive youth development and developing coping skills, Thompson said a Carsey Institute study in the North Country found youth that are connected to their communities are less likely to engage in risky behavior like drugs. Student representative Kayleigh Eastman said the program makes everyone feel included.
Shaheen spoke of the need to change the way prescription medicines are prescribed, citing statistics that one in 10 people get addicted to pain medications and turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative. Ken Gordon, head of Coos County Family Health Services, spoke about prescription guidelines his agency has put in place.
Afterward, Shaheen visited the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN) Maker Studio on Main Street. She also toured the shared workspace, which provides entrepreneurs and artists with the resources to start and run small businesses.