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Shaheen discusses fentanyl crisis with local expert roundtable

MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Friday, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined with community leaders from around New Hampshire discuss new developments on the threat of fentanyl as well as how what is needed to address the threat of fentanyl as well as deal with other illegal drug use within the Granite State.

Hosted by Makin’ It Happen, a organization committed to promoting the overall well-being of youth and families with a focus on alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention efforts, one recurring theme is the rise of fentanyl as the current driving force behind opioid addiction in New Hampshire.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine prescribed for cancer patients but also made illegally by drug cartels that import the ingredients and then make the drug within the United States.

Chris Stawasz, Northeast Regional Director of Government Affairs for American Medical Response, says that opioid deaths are rising in part due to many opioid users doing drugs alone. In turn, no one is around to provide a dose of lifesaving Narcan to the overdosing opioid user.

Stawasz and DEA Associate Special Agent in Charge of the New England Field Division Jon DeLena also noted that many people now overdosing on fentanyl without even knowing that fentanyl was part of the drugs they were taking such as marijuana, cocaine or heroin. They added that just a few grains of the drug can be a lethal dose in some circumstances.

They added that these drugs are now almost exclusively obtained through social media sites and e-commerce platforms by those who do not realize that authentic prescription drugs cannot be legally purchased through these avenues.

DeLena added that the inclusion of fentanyl within these other drugs is a key tactic of Mexican drug cartels in the hopes that the addictiveness of the fentanyl will transform occasional drug users into daily drug users, even if it kills them.

“(The cartels) are purposely putting fentanyl into these drugs to try and create an opioid addiction, that’s what they want,” said DeLena. “They want you to come back every day and all day and if they happen to kill you along the way, they’re okay with that because their business model is to just continue bringing in new customers.”

Another issue impacting increased opioid deaths in New Hampshire is mental healthcare in crisis situations, with members of the roundtable stressing the importance of outreach efforts that can prevent potential overdoses coming from those who use drugs due to depression.

Shaheen noted that the Fiscal Year 2022 government funding legislation included $572.5 million to help communities and first responders respond to substance use crises, including opioid misuse and drug trafficking.

She added that the recently passed Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was passed after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas; has also provided more funding for Byrne Grants that can help local governments tackle opioid abuse.

“The substance use disorder crisis that seized our communities years ago is different than what we’re seeing today. As this epidemic has evolved, so must our response. That’s precisely why the Drug Free Community program, through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is such an important tool to prevention coalitions, which are on the front lines. The prevalence of fentanyl, combined with other drug use and the exacerbating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has only heightened the substance use disorder crisis in our state. We must inform our response to be sure we are tackling it from all sides – access to treatment for those who are struggling, investments in prevention and bolstered resources to prioritize interdiction to stop illicit drugs from seeping into our communities,” said Shaheen. “I appreciate the insight from all participants today who brought important perspectives that will help us address the full scope of this epidemic, and I look forward to sharing their experiences with lawmakers in Washington.”