A Look at the New Hampshire Opioid Crisis

Daniel Goonan, despite being the fire department chief of Manchester, New Hampshire, has an altogether different job than when he started as a firefighter. He still confronts his fair share of fires in his local community, but “at least half of his job is dedicated to dealing with the state’s opioid” epidemic, according to an article in U.S. News.

The opioid crisis has reached new levels of intensity as firefighters report using use Narcan, a medicinal agent used to counteract overdoses, about as often as their hoses.

With the rapid increase in opioid-related overdoses and deaths, emergency personnel have shifted their expectations and responsibilities as the New Hampshire opioid crisis has affected nearly all state residents in some capacity. Consequently, untangling the complexity of the problem that has devasted the state over the last decade is necessary to understand the best strategies going forward.

The Conditions Surrounding the New Hampshire Opioid Crisis

An article in the New York Times explored how the circumstances that have led to New Hampshire’s opioid crisis are conflicting and difficult to unpack.

The article said New Hampshire “has the highest median household income in the country, ranks low in unemployment and crime, and often lands at or near the top of lists of the best states in which to live.” At the same time, the state ranks a close second in overall deaths per capita from opioid overdoses, just behind West Virginia. The 2018 investigative report also linked New Hampshire’s cascading opioid problem to five primary channels:

  • A close proximity to Massachusetts: Massachusetts is at the core “of drug distribution networks that traffic opioids throughout New England.” As a result, New Hampshire is at higher risk because of its closeness to these networks.
  • Low funding for support: New Hampshire ranks the lowest nationally for available addiction treatment programs, both state-funded and otherwise.
  • An absence of medical professionals who specialize in addiction: Doctors who are focused on recovery and addiction support are not well-represented in New Hampshire. Other states in New England carry more than 15.5 addiction-focused medical doctors as residents, while New Hampshire has only seven.
  • The lack of needle exchange programs: While the state has legalized the act of exchanging needles to lower the spread of intravenous diseases, New Hampshire has been especially slow to fund needle exchange programs.
  • New Hampshire’s state creed: The “Live Free or Die” state promotes a unique brand of rugged individualism and can be lax on state regulations that are common elsewhere, like requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets and people in an automobile to wear seatbelts. The motto, it’s believed, may “inhibit some residents from seeking help.”

While this list isn’t conclusive, it’s a good start when considering the conditions that frame New Hampshire’s opioid crisis.

Several issues contribute to the state’s expanding problem of opiate abuse and addiction. A recent article in the journal Preventative Medicine charted the ways opioid abuse and addiction are devastating rural areas in the New England region. It said, “New Hampshire had high proportions of uninsured community members, the highest overdose rates, no HCV (hepatitis C virus) surveillance data, and no local access to SSPs (syringe service programs).” These are incredibly complex obstacles that policymakers and public and human health professionals must confront because the problem of opiate addiction in rural areas is growing.

New Hampshire Opioid Statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has given greater context to the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire. According to the data they’ve gathered, New Hampshire ranks in the top five states “with the highest rate of opioid-involved deaths.” The report noted a startling change in the specific type of opioid that’s being abused most commonly. While heroin-related deaths shrank from 98 in 2014 to 28 in 2017, deaths from fentanyl have surged. In 2013, there were 30 reported deaths from fentanyl overdoses, however that number grew to 374 in 2017.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) similarly noted that New Hampshire is one of the top-three states in synthetic opioid death. This classification becomes more problematic when it’s better understood. The synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to the CDC, is both man-made and prescribed by doctors.

This ability to be synthesized is important because illegal drug producers will often cut the final product with other illicit drugs. Ultimately, this mixture of fentanyl and, most commonly, either heroin or cocaine poses fatal problems to those who abuse it. Moreover, even when manufactured legally in pharmaceutical labs, its effects are 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. As a result, many users opioid users underestimate the drug’s strength and unintentionally overdose.

With this data in mind, human and health services professionals along with lawmakers can begin strategizing the most appropriate approach to navigate the opioid emergency. While the New Hampshire opioid crisis may appear bleak right now, there’s still substantive work being done to combat its effects. With the national spotlight that’s been directed at the state, more work is being done at the national level to provide assistance.

In 2019, the federal government elected to give New Hampshire a grant of $26 million, according to New Hampshire Public Radio. Of that total grant funding, $3.6 million “is designed to help New Hampshire health officials gather data on the opioid crisis that might lead to new strategies to address it.” In other words, the federal government is investing in health and human services agencies and personnel to effectively analyze and then confront the problem.

Health officials are on the frontlines when it comes to combatting the New Hampshire opioid crisis directly. There’s still a growing need, however, to support people suffering from opioid and other substance use disorders. An online B.S. in Human Services can equip you with the tools to approach the New Hampshire opioid crisis effectively.

Rivier University offers a flexible and accommodating Substance Use Disorders degree track through an online psychology degree that also directly appeals to those called to combat the opioid epidemic. As an optional track of the overall human services degree, the program is especially effective for those with an interest in counseling and recovery services. In a flexible, online platform, you can gain the necessary tools to become a social services manager, recovery coach, or rehabilitation services coordinator.