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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: 'The Needle and the Damage Done' - Drug abuse costs NH nearly $2B a year


A DRUG-ADDLED workforce does not make for a rosy economic future.

An advisory promoting Gov. Maggie Hassan's state of the state address said she would be “highlighting New Hampshire's economic progress and outlining her vision for strengthening the state's comprehensive approach to the heroin and opioid crisis” during her Thursday address to the House and Senate, a day when the Senate passed three bills that address the drug problem.

In a small meeting room in the Millyard the day before, Brian Gottlob presented data to a couple of dozen people about how closely those two things — the economy and substance abuse — are intertwined.

Gottlob, principal of Dover-based PolEcon Research, was contracted four years ago by New Futures, an advocacy group seeking to reduce alcohol and drug problems in New Hampshire. The nonprofit asked him to analyze the impact of excessive alcohol consumption, and he produced a report that was released in December 2012. Two years later, as the rise of opioid addiction began to dominate headlines, Gottlob updated the data at the group's request to include the impact of drug use.

Gottlob has plenty of charts and graphs to back up his number crunching, but here's your executive summary: Alcohol and drug misuse costs the state nearly $2 billion a year “in lost productivity and earnings, increased expenditures for health care, and public safety costs.”

If you want to measure it in purely human terms: About 1,800 people died due to drug use in New Hampshire since 2009, according to Gottlob's calculations.

“When you talk about the workforce implications, that's almost 2,000 people that will not be in the workforce. That's a big impact on New Hampshire,” said Gottlob, part of a panel that also featured Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Mirjam Ijsma, president of Cultural Chemistry, an HR firm that hosted the forum. The event was organized by New Futures and New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility.

New Hampshire has the third highest number of drug-induced deaths per 100,000 people in the nation, topped only by New Mexico and West Virginia, according to statistics Gottlob cited from the Centers for Disease Control. In a state where the unemployment rate hovers around 3 percent, anything that reduces or impairs the number of available workers has an impact.

“New Hampshire had a huge advantage back in the '70s and '80s. Our labor force was growing much more rapidly than the nation. Fast forward a decade, we still had an advantage. But in the most recent time period we have fallen below in terms of the growth of our labor force,” Gottlob said. “If we can't add people, we can't add jobs.

“That's a fundamental reason we have underperformed. Alcohol and drug abuse contributes pretty significantly to that,” Gottlob said. “It's certainly not the only reason. It may not even be the major reason, but it is an additional factor that contributes to our greatest economic challenge ... We simply cannot afford to waste any human talent.”

Research about the impact of drug abuse trails studies that examine alcohol dependency, Gottlob said, something that is beginning to change as society begins to recognize how widespread the crisis has become.

“The research is not nearly as advanced on drug use, and that's really a problem. For a lot of years, it was just not seen as a problem that affected the mainstream of society. It was thought of an issue that largely affected those on the margins of society.”

Gottlob stuck to the data during his talk to the group of policy advocates, businesspeople and government officials. On a Feb. 1 blog post about the subject (at http://briangottlob.com), he led with a song — quoting lyrics from Neil Young's “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

I hit the city and

I lost my band

I watched the needle

Take another man

Gone, gone, the damage done.



No number crunching could calculate the impact of that kind of loss.

Mike Cote is business editor. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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