The Origins and Present State of the New Hampshire Heroin Boom
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The Heroin Boom in New Hampshire

New Hampshire (NH) is struggling first hand to deal with the burgeoning heroin crisis in the USA. In 2013-2014, there was a 40% rise in deaths linked to heroin, and at the same time, overdose deaths related to fentanyl increased by 650%. When compared to West Virginia, NH is a relatively wealthy state, which makes the statewide epidemic it faces now even more shocking. NH has the highest median household income in the country; it also boasts low unemployment and crime rates. In this context, it is good to understand how the state’s opioid problem began, and why it is so widespread.

Where did it all start?

The heroin boom in NH has its roots in the actions of pharmaceutical companies and the prevailing healthcare system over the past few decades. Doctors were struggling to find a quick yet effective way for patients to deal with tough to treat pain issues. At the time, pharmaceutical companies grabbed the chance to promote the sale and use of opioids, with misleading claims about its efficacy and safety. Doctors, unable to find lasting solutions, resorted to prescribing painkillers that contained opioids to patients in large numbers. As Anna Lembke says, “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Joint Commission exert enormous control over how doctors practice medicine today. Their quality measures set the standard of care. In the 1990s, they urged doctors to prioritize pain treatment, and that is what we did.” Soon after, illegal drug trafficking followed, leading to an excess supply of dangerous drugs like heroin and other illegal substances like fentanyl.

What makes NH a heroin hotspot?

With three major north-to-south highways, the Interstate 95, Interstate 93 and Route 3, NH has the potential to be influenced by drug traffickers who are using these routes to transport illicit substances around New England. Moving such substances in and out of the state is quite common as many distributors are located in areas like Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts. Moreover, NH has yet to assign larger funding to programs for illegal drug abuse and addition, which can make a big difference among those affected.

Unlike other states in the country, the state, which does not tax residents’ income or sales, ranks as one of the lowest in providing quality drug-treatment programs. People might wait for several months in order to gain access to a program and many smaller communities do not have these facilities. Medication needs to be provided to reduce cravings and help heroin addicts to safely stop using without being sick. Some areas of the state, especially rural neighborhoods, remain quite isolated with only a few jobs. In this environment, many individuals who are unhappy and desperate seek a quick fix.

What is the current state of addiction?

The older population of 40-year olds and above are seeing more opioid overdose deaths, but evidence shows that younger adults – in their 20s and 30s — are more likely to fall prey to the dangers of heroin use. Typically, the younger a person is when they first try an illegal drug, the higher the chances of abuse going forward. It is not surprising anymore to see drugs being sold or used in many public spaces and entertainment venues, such as bars, dance clubs, and other places. Black market street drugs such as LSD, hallucinogens, MDMA, and ketamine are not hard to find in NH, and those in the 28 to 25 age group will need to be monitored closely.