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Governor establishes committee to study drug ODs

By PAT GROSSMITH
New Hampshire Union Leader

October 12. 2016 8:41PM
The number of people dying from drug overdoses has steadily risen since 2014 when 326 overdose deaths were recorded in New Hampshire. (Courtesy)



CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan on Wednesday issued an executive order establishing the Drug Overdose Fatality Review Committee to continue to combat the heroin, opioid and fentanyl epidemic and help save lives.

Her announcement comes after the Office of Chief Medical Examiner earlier this week projected that 488 people will die this year from drug overdoses and the majority of them will involve fentanyl.

According to the latest statistics released by the medical examiner, through Oct. 7 there have been 286 people who have died of drug overdoses in the state. Of those, 120 were the result of fentanyl and another 71 were the result of using fentanyl along with other drugs. Eleven people died from a mix of heroin and fentanyl. In all, about 71 percent of all deaths involved fentanyl, according to medical examiner statistics.

Hassan said the Drug Overdose Fatality Review Committee will bring together experts from the public safety, public health, and prevention, treatment and recovery communities to examine data, trends and patterns of overdose-related deaths to inform policy recommendations and to ensure that resources are being allocated as effectively as possible.

“The heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis is the most urgent public health and public safety issue facing New Hampshire, and we must continue working together on a comprehensive strategy to support law enforcement and strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery,” Hassan said in a statement. “By analyzing data, trends and patterns of drug overdose-related deaths, this committee will help inform policy recommendations and the effective allocation of resources as we continue working with stakeholders battling addiction on the front lines to combat this horrible epidemic and help save lives.”

The committee will examine trends and patterns of overdose-related fatalities and make recommendations to ensure the efficient allocation of state resources; identify high-risk factors, current practices and gaps in systemic responses; recommend policies, practices and services to encourage collaboration between stakeholders; improve data collection and information-sharing; and provide education about overdose-related fatalities and effective intervention, prevention, treatment and recovery strategies.

Creating the committee was included as a complementary strategic recommendation in the update on the state’s comprehensive response to the heroin and opioid health crisis presented by Hassan and James Vara, the governor’s adviser on addiction and behavioral health.

Members will include representatives of law enforcement and fire chiefs; health and human services; the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner; other state agencies; the Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery; victim/witness advocates; New Hampshire Hospital Assocation; the recovery, treatment and prevention community; advocates on substance use issues; and Vara.

Of the drug deaths this year, only two people died as a result of heroin alone, while another three overdosed on heroin and other drugs other than fentanyl.

Other opioids claimed the lives of 38 people and another 41 died from other drugs.

According to the medical examiner, there are another 89 cases from 2016 “pending toxicology” to determine the exact cause of death. It can take two to three months to receive the toxicology results and for a pathologist to review them.

The number of people dying from drug overdoses has steadily risen since 2014 when 326 overdose deaths were recorded in New Hampshire. Last year, there were 439 drug deaths. The number of deaths have more than doubled since 2011 when 201 people died.

Drug deaths declined in 2012 when 163 people died but crept upward in 2013 when drugs claimed 192 lives.

pgrossmith@unionleader.com


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