MANCHESTER, NH – As November grinds on, this month’s Safe Station statistics (through Nov. 17) provide a lot to ponder – most notably, the continued need for mental health services to promote long-term recovery.
Year over year, the trend is that we’re saving more lives at the same time we’re treating more overdoses in New Hampshire. For example, although there was a 43 percent decrease in fatal overdoses, there was also a 13 percent increase in total overdoses, compared to this time last year.
We’ve already seen 794 overdoses in 2017, compared to 787 total for 2016.
Another chart from the three-page data sheet below that is worth examination is the “first-time patient” versus “repeat patient” numbers. Chris Stawasz, Regional Director for American Medical Response ambulance service, confirmed that the numbers reflect a steady upward trend in repeat patients, with a corresponding decline of first-time patients.
“My theory is that through Safe Stations and other treatment programs we have been able to provide opportunities for those who were ready for help, to get it. Now the task gets harder as we have a more hardened group still using who may also be suffering from other problems, such as mental illness and chronic homelessness,” said Stawasz.
Since its inception in May of 2016, there have been 2,571 patients who entered a Manchester fire station seeking services, and of those, 2,056 were taken to recovery treatment centers (most frequently, via Serenity Place) while 503 were taken to CMC or Elliot Hospital.
According to Christopher Hickey, the city’s director of emergency services, Manchester has been inundated with inquiries about Safe Station ever since Oct. 26 when President Trump not only gave Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan a shout out for New Hampshire’s Safe Station program, but called him a “guardian angel.”
Goonan sees his role a bit differently.
Safe Station launched the same day he was sworn in as chief. Since then, he says he feels like he’s earned a master’s degree in recovery. It’s been an education that has immersed him in the grim reality that the need continues to exceed the city’s resources, both in human and financial capital. He says he spends nearly half of his time focused on how to maintain funding for the initiative, and lauds the team effort by all those entities engaged with the treatment and recovery community.
During the launch of Strive Health, a new recovery clinic focused on the needs of veterans and first responders, Goonan spoke about the tentacles of addiction stretching beyond opioids – right now the city is seeing an increase in use of meth, crack and spice, particularly among the homeless population.
But overall, there is hope and a sense of progress. Tracking monthly statistics through Safe Station now provides an important piece of the puzzle for cities and towns across the country when it comes to how we can turn things around.
“We’re looking at outcomes now. We have the National Institute on Drug Abuse coming in to study this program,” says Goonan. “I’m seeing the city come together – I really am. One good thing this program has done is it’s brought us together. We’re looking at our assets. We need to figure out what we can do better, how to do follow-up visits. We’re working with the hospitals and doing medically-assisted treatment,” says Goonan, a trend that continues to provide hope.