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Jan 27, 2016 5:35 PM

Manchester's police chief Nick Willard testifies on NH's drug epidemic on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A hearing in the nation's capitol on Wednesday brought together lawmakers, law enforcement, medical experts and victim's families aiming to reach a consensus about the wave of opioid addiction that's swept the nation - and what the federal government can do about it.

With New Hampshire among the hardest hit states, the Senate Judiciary Committee turned to Granite State leaders for guidance.

"Not only is it taking lives, it's deteriorating communities, devastating families, and leaving children without parents," Manchester police Chief Nick Willard testified. “We are dealing with the throws of human tragedy everyday, but it’s still a wonderful state."

The problem with opioids came on suddenly and came on hard. Compare Manchester's overdose statistics in 2013, when there were 14 fatal overdoses in Manchester, to 2015 with 68 fatal overdoses, almost all of them involving fentanyl either alone or in combination with cocaine or heroin, he said.

Gov. Peter Schumlin from neighboring Vermont argued that the epidemic stems from a decades-long evolution of how people treat pain.
Most of the committee and speakers agreed.

“What we haven’t really talked about is medical schools. It is my understanding that most medical schools don’t have any courses on prescribing medication and recognizing drug abuse," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

“When New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, three states in the prescription of the top five pain medications and —per capita—those same three states are the top of five for heroin abuse, I don't know what methodology they use but it’s certainly not common sense," Willard said

Once addicted, Willard argued that the steady of supply of drugs like heroin and fentanyl from outside the U.S. are hampering police efforts.

“So the addiction pool, I agree, needs to shrink because we need to lessen the demand, but the supply most urgently needs to be reduced with great interdiction effort. I will say it — our border is a sieve.”

He's hoping the federal government will fund law enforcement initiatives—like Manchester's Operation Granite Hammer—to finally get a grip on the crisis.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte hopes the committee will support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and send the bill to the Senate floor where it hopefully would become national legislation to help communities in N.H. and across the country.

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