03 November 2015

Finally, some national attention about the heroin epidemic

"Somehow, if it's heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, 'They decided it, they're getting what they deserved.'"
Posted by HuffPost Politics on Friday, October 30, 2015

Getting a little local today, but I was glad to see my hometown get a mention in a New York Times article about the growing problem of heroin in the US. It is the top issue for New Hampshire voters and Hillary Clinton stopped by a few months ago to participate in a forum on drugs here in Laconia. The room was filled with national press.

Reporters from NPR, Boston Globe and even Andrea Mitchell were milling about to interview people. The next day, reports focused on earlier comments Clinton made on the Democratic primary debate. At least one reporter was paying attention to the issue and the event:
New Hampshire is typical of the hardest-hit states. Last year, 325 people here died of opioid overdoses, a 68 percent increase from 2013. Potentially hundreds more deaths were averted by emergency medical workers, who last year administered naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, in more than 1,900 cases.

Adding to the anxiety among parents, the state also ranks second to last, ahead only of Texas, in access to treatment programs; New Hampshire has about 100,000 people in need of treatment, state officials say, but the state’s publicly financed system can serve just 4 percent of them.

Since New Hampshire holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, residents have repeatedly raised the issue of heroin with the 2016 candidates.

Mrs. Clinton still recalls her surprise that the first question she was asked in April, at her first open meeting in New Hampshire as a candidate, was not about the economy or health care, but heroin. Last month, she laid out a $10 billion plan to combat and treat drug addiction over the next decade.

She has also led discussions on the topic around the country, including packed forums like the one in Laconia, N.H., where hundreds of politically engaged, mostly white middle-class men and women, stayed for two hours in a sweltering meeting hall to talk and listen. One woman told of the difficulties of getting her son into a good treatment program, and said he eventually took his own life. Another told Mrs. Clinton of the searing pain of losing her beloved son to heroin.
The story is important because it highlights the shift in ways that people are talking about addiction in drugs. When the crack epidemic struck, the policies honed in on jail sentences and the war on drugs. With heroin being a problem that strikes mostly white middle-class Americans, the solutions now focus on treatment for addicts, not jail.
But today, with heroin ravaging largely white communities in the Northeast and Midwest, and with violent crime largely down, the mood is more forgiving.

“Both the image and reality is that this is a white and often middle-class problem,” said Mr. Mauer of the Sentencing Project. “And appropriately so, we’re having a much broader conversation about prevention and treatment, and trying to be constructive in responding to this problem. This is good. I don’t think we should lock up white kids to show we’re being equal.”

So officers like Eric Adams, a white former undercover narcotics detective in Laconia, are finding new ways to respond. He is deployed full time now by the Police Department to reach out to people who have overdosed and help them get treatment.

“The way I look at addiction now is completely different,” Mr. Adams said. “I can’t tell you what changed inside of me, but these are people and they have a purpose in life and we can’t as law enforcement look at them any other way. They are committing crimes to feed their addiction, plain and simple. They need help.”

Often working with the police, rather than against them, parents are driving these kinds of individual conversions.

I was not aware of the gravity of the problem until moving here this summer. But seeing drug busts and young people dying from heroin overdoses in the past few months has brought the issue to the forefront. As the article points out, the candidates are responding. It may still not get a lot of attention, but this is a growing problem that I am willing to bet will get more attention during the presidential primaries and campaign.

The article and video at the top of Gov Chris Christie shows just how mush the conversation about addiction is changing.