The ‘Perfect Storm’ Driving The Addiction Epidemic In New Hampshire

By Kelly Burch 01/25/18

Fentanyl and a lack of access to addiction treatment are major issues for the state.

The ‘Perfect Storm’ Driving The Addiction Epidemic In New Hampshire

New Hampshire is best known for its rugged mountains and deep blue lakes that become a playground for travelers from throughout New England during the summer and winter months, and a beacon for tourists from even further afield when the autumn leaves change. 

But behind the natural beauty is a state gripped by an addiction crisis that has become so bad that President Trump referred to New Hampshire as a “drug-infested den” early last year. Now, researchers are trying to figure out exactly why the Granite State has become so vulnerable to addiction. 

“This is a kind of perfect storm,” Lisa A. Marsch, a professor of psychiatry and health policy at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, told The New York Times. “We have highly available, highly potent opioids in New Hampshire. And highly limited resources to reduce the risk.” 

Researchers from Dartmouth recently published a study that looked at factors contributing to the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire. Although the state is rural (which is generally associated with higher rates of opioid abuse), it is relatively prosperous, with the highest median household income in the nation, according to NHPR

One of the major factors driving the epidemic in New Hampshire is access to powerful fentanyl. The state has the highest rate of fentanyl overdose deaths per capita.

According to the study, the synthetic opioid is manufactured and distributed in Massachusetts towns that are just across the border, making it easy to get high-potency fentanyl that is said to have virtually replaced heroin on New Hampshire streets. 

Fentanyl is driving up the need for access to addiction treatment, but the state lags behind the rest of the nation in funding treatment. Only Texas spends less, according to the Dartmouth study. New Hampshire has low rates of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), no needle exchange programs, and issues with access to the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan, researchers found. 

Researchers also say that the state’s ethos of “Live Free or Die” can prevent people from seeking help. This is compounded by New Hampshire’s rural setting, where some areas are economically downtrodden. 

“We also need to understand more about the tightly knit social networks in rural communities with economic disparity—decades ago they were booming and now the jobs are gone,” Marsch said in a news release. “The economic context of this along with the rural social network may function to propagate patterns of use.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.