June 14. 2018 12:40AM

The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: In Southern NH, opioid crisis shows no signs of stopping

By JOAN STYLIANOS


By now, I foolishly thought that the opioid scourge would have quietly slithered away after rearing its ugly head across southern New Hampshire and gaining crazy momentum three years ago.

Boy, am I naive. If you haven’t been personally touched by the problem or aren’t on the frontlines like emergency response, firefighters, police and those working at recovery centers, then maybe you wouldn’t know that the problem rages on.

Nashua, like Manchester and area communities, is trying in earnest to get a grip on the crisis. Police are busting sellers left and right, educators are working with law enforcement to bring new drug prevention programs to schools, and treatment centers are filled to capacity.

American Medical Response (AMR) paramedics here have recently added ketamine, an anesthetic, to help addicts for pain management in emergency situations.

In addition, the Gate City now has a needle exchange program that was developed through Nashua’s Division of Public Health and Community Services. It’s called the Syringe Services Alliance of Nashua Area, but it receives zero state or federal funding. Outreach workers and volunteers buy new needles, sterile syringes and other supplies and go out into the community to meet drug users.

Even Walmart pharmacies here have established a new program to help people dispose of their old or unused medications. It’s a small white packet filled with a powder called DisposeRX, and when you pick up an opioid prescription from Walmart, you receive the item. Take it home, fill your old prescription vial with water, add some DisposeRX, shake it, and the meds turn into a gooey form. Then, you toss the vial into the trash.

I applaud Gov. Chris Sununu’s leadership in the opioid battle and key strategies he’s introduced for the state, including his most recent success to secure $50 million from the New Hampshire Hospital Association to combat the crisis over the next five years.

So with all the national attention, focus, new initiatives and support in our communities, it would appear that the epidemic would have abated.

Unfortunately, overdoses are on the rise again. The Union Leader’s Paul Feely shared these statistics on May 2:

“In Nashua, there were 36 opioid-related overdoses in April, and one possible opioid-related fatality, pending toxicology reports.

Year to date in the Gate City there have been 120 opioid-related overdoses, and 13 confirmed opioid-related deaths.

Through the end of April 2018, the Nashua Safe Station program had been accessed 1,724 times since it began on Nov 17, 2016.”

Southern NH, especially, is stuck in an opioid labyrinth. For one thing, heroin has been replaced by the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The way I understand it, fentanyl’s cheaper, more potent and the rush is extremely intense but dies away, so addicts have to constantly use, raising the risk of ODs and death.

And then, there are our southerly neighbors, Lawrence and Lowell, reportedly the kings of the drug distribution networks that supply opioids throughout New England. For less than the cost of a six-pack of beer, one can buy a bag of fentanyl-laced heroin there, cheaper than in NH, according to a Dartmouth College study.

I have an idea. How about CBD (cannabidiol)?

It’s another tool in the toolbox, so to speak. It’s the compound in marijuana that doesn’t make you high. CBD has been shown to wean addicts off opioids by removing the craving and withdrawal symptoms.

One way it’s taken is through a tincture with a couple of drops on or under the tongue.

If it hasn’t been tried here, then, why not see if CBD can make a difference?

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at jtania512@gmail.com.