Community Forum for Manchester’s Heroin Epidemic

Today’s community discussion at the Radisson focused on the heroin epidemic in Manchester and other towns in NH. The forum was packed with questions and ideas from people all over the state trying to find solutions to this serious problem. Some thought money was all that was needed, others felt understanding the cause, heading it off, and not criminalizing those who might call to save a life might be a better option. Participants had a chance to speak about the topic in order to find solutions . One person said that “Education needs to start in middle school…we need to get into the schools and raise standards” speaking of education for staff and not just children.

There were various advocates from local recovery centers in attendance who argued that people were being helped, but not enough. The reason given was that the city itself was part of the problem due to the strict guidelines they had to follow. One center was only allowed eight beds so they often found themselves turning people away. They suggested that a bigger place would help more people, but many of these are not all publicly funded recovery centers, and may be at risk of closing for the lack of funding.

One woman said her twenty-five year old son is currently in jail for heroin usage. She offered a list of signs to look for to help other families recognize unusual behavior in their loved ones in hopes of helping them before it’s too late. She shared that small pieces of foil with charcoal was the first sign of a new user who might be hesitant to shoot up out of fear. The list included: spoons, baggies, X-acto knives, empty cases, and straws.

She continued with additional odd behavioral patterns to look for; falling asleep during conversations, or being awake at odd hours, not showering or being overly helpful, wearing long sleeves on hot days and losing interest in things they once loved were also signs from her list. Another thing was finding things missing around the house, namely gift cards sold for a fraction of the value, usually bought by local stores. Also, receipts used to return items just purchased. “They can sell anything”, she stated.

The subject of gateway drugs being the cause of more dangerous substances was also discussed. Someone said “Children may start smoking and using alcohol, but it often leads to other usage”, assuming she meant heroin and fentanyl, a substance often mixed with the heroin for an added high.

One woman gave another account of bringing her adult child to a local hospital for treatment after overdosing. She was concerned that the social worker’s advice to them of not using in front of her children, but waiting for them to be asleep first, was like giving her permission to use the dangerous substance. This brought up the subject of helping all healthcare providers use the same language in dealing with users, which some agreed was lacking.

There was a lot of talk about the drug Narcan, which, from what I understand, is another opioid drug that friends and family of a drug user can administer in case of an overdose. The problem they found was how the administrators of the drug wouldn’t know to call 911 right away. This caused negative outcomes, namely death, of the user they were trying to save.

Other talks began about how law enforcement should handle their encounters with drug users. Some strongly stated that arresting them doesn’t solve the problem because they end up using again anyway, sometimes until it takes their life. Chief Willard agreed that would not be the best course of action. He felt if someone knew they would be arrested for calling 911 to save their loved one, it could also make them a felon. Willard discouraged this course of action for this reason, asking the community to consider more effective options. Chief Willard said “Why aren’t we arresting everyone? Because we’ll see more fatalities rise.”

Further discussions turned political, calling to the community to get involved by contacting their state representatives, who some would say don’t understand the issue enough to make sound decisions to remedy it. The topic of drug court came up as a way of processing the criminalized users only to be released to use again.

One of the most compelling arguments was how New Hampshire was the second to the last state to get on board with funding education and other solutions for the states heroin epidemic. Someone said the “biggest barrier was the city. Treatment centers need support. They get little funding.” And another mother argued that “nobody should become charity cases to pay for rehab,” because many families mortgage their houses to finance their loved ones in recovery.

One elderly man named David spoke up angrily saying “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room! We need money! We don’t need talk and meetings! I’m so tired of stories! We need people to get it together! People are dying! I’m seventy years old and this is the second epidemic I’ve lived through. We need to get off our #$$ and get people in Concord to give money. It’s been thirteen years since we’ve seen a penny!”

Another woman told of how she witnessed someone getting kicked out of rehab for using. She fought to get him back in. She pleaded with the community around her saying, “Are we going to do something or expect others to do it?!” She then asked “How many parents have lost children?” She urged them “Don’t take no for an answer!”

One advocate from a local center spoke up saying, “Getting the right language is low cost, but we can use volunteers, physicians, time, money, etc.” Then the announcer chimed in that they were looking for a central referral location of some sort to store data. Mention of various facilities and educational materials at the forum concluded the event.

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