September 05. 2017 8:04PM

Opioid overdoses rise in August, but deaths drop compared to last year

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader


Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., discusses the opioid crisis with Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan and Stephanie Bergeron, Serenity Place's executive director, after they toured Serenity Place in Manchester on Tuesday. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Opioid-related overdoses rose more than 80 percent in August compared to a year earlier, but the number of deaths dropped by more than half, authorities said Tuesday.

Such overdoses were up slightly during the first eight months of this year over the same period last year, but the number of fatalities fell by more than a third, according to city fire department figures.

Death and overdose numbers can fluctuate depending on whether drug dealers are “tweaking the (drug) mix or it might be a higher mix with (the more dangerous) fentanyl,” Fire Chief Dan Goonan said Tuesday. More access to Narcan is helping revive people who overdose, he said.

Overdoses totaled 88 in August and 547 for the first eight months of 2017, compared to 48 in August of 2016 and 533 for the first eight months of 2016. Fatality numbers from opioid overdoses stood at 42 for this year compared to 69 last year. August saw three such overdose deaths compared to eight in August of 2016, according to Goonan.

Meanwhile, the federal officials announced Tuesday that New Hampshire would share in a $4.7 million grant among 32 states and the District of Columbia to help track and prevent opioid-involved nonfatal and fatal overdoses. The money could be used for medical examiners and coroners as well as for comprehensive toxicology testing and enhancing surveillance activities.

Chief Goonan accompanied Rep. Carol Shea-Porter on a tour of Serenity Place, a substance use disorder treatment center. She also heard about the Safe Station program, where addicts can head to a city fire station for help without fear of being arrested.

“If people can find their way to a safe station and then here, they can get their future back,” she said during a discussion at Serenity Place, located in the former city police station. “My biggest takeaway is the level of compassion, the level of caring and the level of professionalism.”

Stephanie Bergeron, Serenity Place’s executive director, said more education is needed for the public to understand the issue, and that combating the problem should focus on treating addicts as human beings and not criminals.

Bergeron said she likes to see the quality of life to improve for clients.

“This is where you were eight months ago. Here, you are now,” she said.

“A year ago, when they were sleeping outside behind our building and we were feeding them turkey sandwiches and they had no sweatshirt and now they’re being re-engaged with their family and thinking about going back to school,” she said. Today, they might be living in an apartment with a car and kitten to manage.

Said Goonan: “A lot of people get help and become productive.”

mcousineau@unionleader.com