The rates of opiate and heroin addiction have become an epidemic throughout the country, including New Hampshire, and many communities are calling for education and immediate action. The valley is moving forward with a forum called "Facing Heroin, Strengthening Our Community" which will bring together multiple different organizations and concerned citizens to share information and provide resources to move forward on combating this crisis.
The statistics from the N.H. state police clearly show why such forums are needed, as 321 people died in the state from drug overdoses in 2014. This represents a huge boost in the rates from 2013- with a forty percent increase in deaths that were related to heroin and a six hundred and fifty percent increase for deaths caused by fentanyl. In addition to the social costs of the opiate crisis, there has been an estimated cost of almost two billion annually in lost production and revenue, treatment services, court, and jail costs.
Peter Morency, the Berlin City Police Chief, says that the city is seeing about three overdoses every week. While most survive, not all do, with dozens of deaths occurring in the past few years. In addition, the rate of property crimes is increasing dramatically along with heroin abuse. For every fifty percent increase of heroin users, there is a fifteen percent increase of property crimes. John McCormic, Coos County Attorney, says that there has been an increase in opiate and heroin cases and that his office is aggressively prosecuting each case, but that doesn't seem to stem the tide.
These rates are what brought about the idea for this forum. During a discussion between the Pastor of Good Shepherd and Holy Family Parishes Rev. Kyle Stanton and the Police Chief, Stanton brought up concerns about the damages that families and communities were suffering due to addiction. The Police Chief realized that this issue was not one that only affected law enforcement. Many families were struggling as well, with complaints about support options and availability of treatment.
Morency suggested that his department host a forum for the community, to include the expert opinions of those who work in mental health and drug treatment as well as the voices of law enforcement. The city council supported this idea, and the community moved forward with offering a panel that includes information from law enforcement, medical professionals, mental health practitioners, and religious personnel. It will also include small group discussions among them to discuss treatment options, long-term recovery services, support, and ways to prevent addiction.
"This event provides a chance for the community to learn from practitioners as well as creating an opportunity for the community to be heard. Community members are invited to be a part of the solution, offering ways to address the needs and concerns of the neighborhood," stated Courtney Wrigley of North Country Listens. This forum is the beginning of a bigger conversation that must happen about opiates and other drugs.
The forum will be held next Wednesday at the Berlin High School, starting at 5:30 and is open to the entire Androscoggin Valley. It is suggested that you register, but walks-ins are welcome.