Sep 25, 2014 8:09 PM

Heroin epidemic - What it is costing NH taxpayers and the Granite State

CONCORD - We continue our 3-part series on the heroin epidemic here in New Hampshire.

Officials say the problem is two-fold.

They say the state has some of the highest rates of abuse but ranks at the bottom of the list when it comes to access for people to get treatment.

But we wanted to know how much the epidemic is costing the state and in particular, you, the taxpayer?

We also asked why the state is, just now, ramping up its efforts to put a dent in the problem.

Heroin is cheap, easy to get, and many times, deadly.

"It's bad," said Tym Rourke, Chair of the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drugs. This is a huge problem. It's costing the state billions of dollars a year."

Rourke went on to say, "We've just arrived at this, I think, perfect storm of this very limited funding and financing, very limited visibility until quite recently around the drug and alcohol problem in New Hampshire and then lots and lots of very sick people."

Plenty of sick people, he says and some of them are the children of addicts who have fallen off the state's radar.

We asked how many children have actually fallen through the cracks.

Rourke responded, "That's a great question and what's scary about it is that we don't know." Adding, not too many people are immune to the problem.

"If you ask any health care provider, any law enforcement officer, any educator, they are seeing day to day, in their daily jobs the impact of substance abuse on kids, families, and adults in our communities in a way that we have not seen before," Roure said. "The quality of life in the state of New Hampshire is at risk and I think many in the state know that. Many in state leadership know that and I think the moment is now."

One of the reasons the moment is now, officials say, is that because many addicts resort to crime to feed their addiction, meaning crime-rates here in the Granite State are on the rise.

In Concord alone, the number of heroin-related crimes has nearly tripled in the last decade.

According to state officials, nearly 90% of burglaries and thefts are believed to be fueled by drug abuse.

In Merrimack County, the number of heroin arrests has skyrocketed.

The County Attorney's office said it made more than 400 drug and drug-related indictments in 2013 and that's twice as many as 2010. Most of them, they said, were felonies.

Meantime, the price tag to house one of the prisoners convicted of committing one of the crimes? Officials said about $40,000 a year.

It's a vicious cycle for so many families, experts say, and it's hard to break.

"When you're in the midst of that addiction, that's really the only thing you can think about," said Jennifer Cusato of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Hampshire. "It's the only thing you brain can understand and it, your brain tells you it needs that or you won't survive."

She said for many families, the addiction gets passed down from generation to generation.

"And again if you're kids become addicts, then they're going to need to feed that addiction somehow," she said.

Heroin was the the only thing on Kasey McGibbon's mind.

The 20-year-old now in rehab, said she was hooked on heroin even before she got pregnant and is expecting her baby in 3 months.

"When you're using, you don't care about anything else and it's really selfish," McGibbon said. "I was excited because I wanted the baby because I thought it would help me get clean but it was like the complete opposite. It didn't help"

It didn't help Amber Marie Blevens either.

The 23-year-old from Manchester died of an overdose last year.

Her parents are still grieving their loss saying heroin latched on to their daughter and never let go.

"I don't think she really thought it could happen," said her father Mark Blevens. "I think she thought she was invincible to death."

Now, officials realize the state is not immune either as they recognize the epidemic and try to do something to curb it.

"There's a real problem out there and New Hampshire ranks so high in all of these illegal substances or just misuse of these illegal substances," said Rourke. "We know what the solutions are. It's just going to take some financing and some leadership to get them on the ground."

Rourke went on to say heroin addiction remains a hidden disorder and that presents another problem. He said officials can't help people that they don't even know have a problem.


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