Hassan Hosts Opioid Summit

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. makes opening remarks to professionals from health care, law enforcement, education and others Tuesday May 10, 2016 in Manchester, N.H. during the opening of the governor's summit on substance misuse. Hassan announced residents struggling with heroin addiction and other substance use disorders will soon be able to call a state hotline for help.(AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2016 11:08:23 PM
Modified: 5/11/2016 11:25:49 AM

Manchester — About 900 caregivers, police officers and others gathered on Tuesday to respond to the recent rapid growth in illicit use of prescription pain medicines and heroin at a Summit on Substance Misuse called by New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.

“Addiction is chronic illness,” said keynote speaker Thomas McLellan, former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama administration. As such, its care should be covered by private and public health insurance in the same way as a condition such as diabetes, he said.

But although the Affordable Care Act mandates that treatments for substance misuse and mental illness should be covered like physical illnesses, only about 2.3 million out of the nearly 23 million Americans addicted to alcohol, opioids or cocaine are currently in treatment, he said. And even though another 40 million American adults suffer from less serious forms of substance use disorder, substance misuse remains misunderstood and often untreated, according to McLellan.

“You’ve got to have a constituency that’s willing to stand up and demand their rights,” he said.

Locally, those with substance use disorder include about 40 pregnant mothers now receiving care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Perinatal Addiction Treatment Program on Mechanic Street in Lebanon. “Most of our patients have very difficult life circumstances,” said Daisy Goodman, a nurse-midwife in the program.

About 65 mothers and their newborns have received care since the program began in 2013.

But the challenge of substance misuse by pregnant women is more widespread. Of the 1,150 babies born in a year at Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Lebanon, about 80 are at risk for neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, said Catherine Milliken, director of the program.

The official statewide total of confirmed deaths from drug overdoses in 2015 was 437, according to a May 2 release from New Hampshire’s chief medical examiner. That was more than double the death toll in 2013, according to the CME. This year, there have been 82 confirmed drug overdose deaths, and another 72 deaths were awaiting toxicology test results, the CME reported.

“The heroin and opioid crisis is the most urgent public health and public safety issue facing our state,” Hassan said in a release issued after Tuesday’s event.

Earlier, Hassan welcomed attendees with the announcement that this week, the state will launch a 24-hour substance misuse hotline. She also urged her listeners to lobby legislators who have before them legislation to expand New Hampshire’s drug courts, beef up law enforcement efforts to stem the flow of illicit drugs and upgrade the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

The PDMP is an electronic database where pharmacists are required to report all prescriptions filled for opium-related drugs. Physicians can use the database to see if their patients are obtaining some dangerous drugs from multiple providers.

Michelle Ricco Jonas, the program manager, said that a provision of state law that forbade the use of taxpayers’ money to support the system had been erased, but that $130,000 needed to pay for system enhancements had not yet been appropriated.

In a luncheon speech, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack stressed the importance of connecting prescription drug monitoring systems across state lines. Currently, New Hampshire’s system lacks that capability, but it should be added later this year, Ricco Jonas said later.

Vilsack also called for law enforcement to “stem the incredible flow of this poison into our states, our communities, our homes” and for naloxone, a drug that can be used to reverse a narcotic overdose, to be made more readily available to first responders and families of those with substance use disorder.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this story. Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.


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