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NH among the worst in teen drug-abuse rankings

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 20. 2015 8:50PM

The cover of the 2015 Kids Count Data Book, an annual ranking of child well-being in the 50 states compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

Not poor, but not sober either.

The latest report card on New Hampshire children found that while few Granite State children struggle in poverty compared to the country as a whole, the state ranks among the worst in the country when it comes to teen abuse of drugs and alcohol.

The findings are in the 2015 Kids Count Data Book, an annual ranking of child well-being in the 50 states compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Overall, New Hampshire ranked second in the country in child well-being, behind only Minnesota. The Data Book, which relies on Census data, reported that the percentage of children living in poverty fell from 16 percent in 2012 to 10 percent in 2013.

And New Hampshire scored well in categories dealing with education levels, intact families and teen births.

But the state was tied for last place with six other states in the percentage of teens — 7 percent — who misuse drugs or alcohol. The other states are neighboring Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Teen drug use can be financially devastating for families, said Linda Saunders Paquette, director of New Futures, which advocates for policies that address drug and alcohol abuse.

“Many times, parents will go through their life savings in an effort to get treatment for their kids,” Paquette said.

Her group advocates for more state money for drug prevention and treatment programs. Paquette said the governor and lawmakers routinely flout state law, which calls for 5 percent of Liquor Commission profits to be earmarked for drug prevention and treatment programs.

If the law were followed, $18 million would be dedicated to such programs over the next two years, Paquette said. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan called for spending about $10.5 million over the biennium; the Republican Legislature budgeted about $7 million, she said.

“The least expensive way to deal with these (drug abuse) problems in New Hampshire is to prevent them,” Paquette said.

She said the state is in the middle of a five-year strategic plan to address drug use among teens.

One successful program targets student-athletes. And the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation has funded a program that instructs pediatricians and other child health professionals how to screen at-risk children for drug use and address it.

“The Granite State should not be last in the nation for any indicator of child well-being,” said Ellen Fineberg, executive director of New Hampshire Kids Count, the local partner of the Casey Foundation.

Fineberg said the improving economy is likely responsible for the drop in the percentage of children living in poverty. But she said the 10 percent rate is troubling; it’s been inching up since 2000, when it was 6 percent.

The report also hints that more New Hampshire children — as many as 6,000 — are living in areas of concentrated poverty, according to the Data Book. Fineberg stressed that another year is needed to see if the finding is a blip or a trend.

At 22 percent, Coös County had the highest rate of child poverty in the state; Hillsborough and Merrimack counties had the highest number of children living in poverty.

“It’s more difficult to change your economic situation when you live in low poverty areas,” Fineberg said.

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