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Heroin overdoses take their toll in NH's largest city

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 23. 2015 8:53PM

MANCHESTER — Heroin continues to claim Manchester lives, with 65 deaths recorded this year as of Tuesday and emergency personnel responding to 540 overdose calls, 400 of them requiring the administration of Narcan, Fire Chief James Burkush said Wednesday.

Burkush shared the statistics during the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum on “Community Health and Responding to New Hampshire's Heroin Epidemic” attended by more than 100 people at the Derryfield Country Club.

Tim Soucy, director of Manchester Public Health, said so far this September there have been 75 suspected overdoses and eight deaths in the city. “It’s the highest of any September, and the month isn’t over yet,” he said.

The fire chief said the epidemic is affecting everyone: The youngest person firefighters treated was 16 and the oldest, 69. The overdose victims have been found in hotels, public buildings, restaurants, parked vehicles and while driving motor vehicles. The youngest fatality, he said, was 18; the oldest, 51.

“We treated the same person seven times, reviving him with Narcan this calendar year,” Burkush said.

Chris Hickey, EMS training officer for the Manchester Fire Department, said in a 10-hour period between 9 p.m. Monday and 7 a.m. on Tuesday, three people died in the city from heroin overdoses.

Dr. William Brewster, New Hampshire associate medical director of Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, spoke about his family's personal experience. About six years ago, he and his wife sold their business and his wife returned to the field of nursing, becoming an intensive care unit nurse at Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

Then the day came when she received a call at home from the hospital telling her, “We don't know if your son will live. He OD’d on heroin.”

The family eventually found Teen Challenge, a faith-based residential recovery program in Manchester which, according to its website, “empowers real and lasting life transformation for addicted men — 18 years and older — through spiritual, academic, and vocational training.” It also has programs for women and teens.

“I am a doctor who was sobbing on the phone to someone at Teen Challenge,” Brewster said. “They said just bring him in.”

Today Brewster’s son is working full-time and attending Manchester Community College.

He urged the business people at the forum to do whatever they could to help because “these people are all somebody’s children.”

And, he said, what they need to know is that there is help and hope.

Mayor Ted Gatsas has implemented a 60-day plan that involves increasing awareness in city schools.

Hickey, the fire department’s EMS trainer, had presented a health and education program at the Manchester School of Technology which, he said, basically is meant to make students aware of just how dangerous heroin is.

That led to him presenting programs in other city schools and handing out purple bands with “Not Even Once” imprinted on them in white lettering. It means, you do heroin once, you can die; you do it once, you can be addicted.

Police Chief Nick Willard said his officers are focusing on arresting everyday drug dealers, while also working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to find the drug suppliers.

An assistant U.S. Attorney has been assigned to work with detectives who, Willard said, have tracked some of the drugs to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, which U.S. government officials consider the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world.

Gatsas, who has made fighting the heroin epidemic in the Queen City a priority, took aim at the FDA, which in August approved the administration of Oxycontin to children from age 11 to 16 who are suffering from extreme pain. "Where is the outrage about that?" the mayor asked.

Public Safety Health Manchester

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