MANCHESTER, NH — Communities need to have more input in government programs aimed at helping those afflicted with opiate addiction and they should also be allowed to use federal funds where it can be most useful, local officials told U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen during a round-table discussion on the opiate crisis.
The 45-minute session, held Monday at the police station, revealed that police are finding empty boxes of Narcan at drug houses and during motor vehicle stops, indicators that drug overdoses in the city are much higher than officially reported because people are not calling 911 for help.
And a “freight train” has arrived in the Granite State when it comes to crystal meth, according to Jon DeLena, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Manchester District Office, overseeing DEA operations in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.
Mexican drug cartels, he said, are flooding the country — and targeting New England — with cheap crystal meth. At the border recently, he said, seven tons of the drug were confiscated.
“It’s scary,” he said.
Chief Carlo Capano said his officers and other first responders are working tirelessly during the drug crisis. Officers can get called out on two drug overdoses a week and sometimes twice in a day, he said. Officers on the force for five years or less are seeing more and more deaths and it’s taking its toll.
Officers, he said, are seeing used Narcan boxes in cars where there are children, he said. “Officers are getting worn down by it,” he said. Resiliency training is what is needed for law enforcement and that means funding.
Those were some of the issues discussed by Shaheen, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, Police Chief Carlo Capano, Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood, New Hampshire State Medical Examiner Dr. Jennie V. Duval, Timothy J. Pifer, M.S., director of the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory, among others.
Shaheen wanted to know what first responders need from the government to combat the drug crisis.
The officials said local communities need to have more input into the programs, need to be able to use the funds the way they see fit and there is a need for continued and additional funding to help first responders deal with the emotion of attending calls involving death, according to Capano.
The state, in receiving $45 million in federal funds over two years to combat the crisis, came up with a plan for nine “one-stop hubs,” now called “Doorways,” across the state that would be within one hour’s driving time for everyone.
Manchester, however, already had initiated its Safe Station program which garnered national attention when President Donald Trump praised Fire Chief Daniel Goonan and the program.
With the implementation of the new system, now 50 to 60 percent of people coming to Safe Station are from out of the area and officials say the large numbers are overwhelming the program.
“We just can’t handle the volume of people we’re seeing,” the mayor said.
Continued funding, Capano said, is also needed for Crisis Intervention Training. In the program, provided by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, all of Manchester’s 237 officers take a 40-hour course focusing on how to deal with people who have a mental health problem, many of whom are also drug users. There is also an eight-hour refresher course annually.
The program carries a high price tag because overtime is paid out to cover the shifts while officers are in training.
When it comes to the overdose deaths, Fentanyl still remains the number one problem, according to Dr. Duval. Last year in New Hampshire, there were 470 drug deaths, 201 of them were from fentanyl, another 181 were from fentanyl and another drug, and three involved fentanyl and heroin, according to her office.
Shaheen, along with a bipartisan group of senators, introduced the Fentanyl Sanctions Act to combat the substance use epidemic, and that would put pressure on the Chinese government to honor their commitment to making all fentanyl illegal. It also provides the U.S. with more tools and resources to go after illicit traffickers in China, Mexico and other countries. The Senate will take up the legislation this week as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
She said she expects it to pass since it is bipartisan legislation.
Pifer, the director of the state forensic lab, said about 50 percent of drugs analyzed in the lab test positive for fentanyl. He said some fentanyl users now have built up a tolerance for the drug because what would be a fatal dose five years ago no longer is. “So we are seeing huge levels of that,” he said.
Meth is on the uptick as well, he said. About 25 percent of drugs are meth or part of it is meth. He said while people can recover from a fentanyl addiction, although it may take many tries, meth addiction has long-term consequences and causes permanent brain damage. “It literally burns holes in the brain,” he said. It is something the state will be dealing with for decades, he said.
Capano said meth is also a drug that makes users violent, putting first responders at risk of injury.
Dr. Duval said she is seeing more meth in all kinds of deaths including suicides and homicides.