Shaheen pointed out that on average someone dies every day in New Hampshire from heroin and opioid abuse. She said the country needs to take the issue as seriously as it took the Ebola outbreak back in 2014.
Roughly two-dozen community leaders, school officials, law enforcement, health and social service providers, first responders, clergy, and even a student representative attended a roundtable discussion with Shaheen Friday afternoon at Berlin High School.
While not enough money, Shaheen said the federal government has appropriated an additional $159 million to federal programs targeting the epidemic.
Berlin City Manager James Wheeler told Shaheen the problem strikes at the very base of the community. Rev. Kyle Stanton said he and Rev. Andrew Nelson started preaching on the issue a year ago after their pastoral work lead them to discover the impact the abuse was having on families. Nelson said many families and neighborhoods are broken and that is fueling the epidemic. Shaheen said she was pleased to see the involvement of the faith community here, noting this is the first forum she has held where that has happened.
Kristy Letendre, director of alcohol and drug treatment for 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 double its capacity and add some detox beds but said money is a stumbling block. Funding, she said, is available for services but not for facilities and infrastructure. Letendre said the region also needs more licensed professionals and recovery services.
Charlie Cotton, director of Northern Human Services, pointed out that 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 get them into treatment. Shaheen said $42 million, an increase of $1 million, has been allocated to support state and local drug courts.
State Police Troop F commander Gary Price said drug prevention efforts should target preschool kids because he said many older users started when they were young. He said what is really killing users is the drug fentanyl, which is far more powerful than heroin. Users build up a tolerance to heroin and then overdose when given a relatively small dose of the more powerful fentanyl.
Robert Thompson, manager of Project AWARE, spoke about the impact of that federal funded program at Berlin. One effort is the Youth Leadership Through Adventure which stresses positive youth development and developing coping skills, Thompson said a Carsey Institute study of kids 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 a leader and everyone feels included.
Shaheen spoke about the need to change the way prescription medicines are prescribed, citing statistics that one in ten get addicted through pain medications and then turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative that is easier to obtain. Ken Gordon, head of Coos County Family Health Services, spoke about prescriptions guidelines his agency has put in place.
After the roundtable, Shaheen visited the Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN) Maker Studio on Main Street in Berlin. The senator toured the shared workspace, which provides entrepreneurs and artists with the resources to start and run small businesses.