Union Leader's Shawne Wickham to lead 'Beyond the Stigma' series

Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News reporter Shawne Wickham will examine solutions to the opioid crisis in a yearlong series starting in May.

Exploring solutions to the state's behavioral health and addiction crises will be the focus of a yearlong series in the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News beginning in May.

The series, "Beyond the Stigma", will refocus coverage past the immediate problems in an effort to raise public awareness and prompt conversation about potential solutions. The series will detail the relationship between mental health and addiction while uncovering examples of behavioral health treatment and prevention models that are actually working.

The effort will be led by Shawne K. Wickham, a veteran Union Leader/Sunday News reporter who has been covering the stories of New Hampshire for 30 years, including the Challenger explosion, the National Guard's deployment to Kuwait, presidential primaries and stories from every corner of the state.

The numbers are staggering. Nearly 500 New Hampshire residents died of drug overdoses last year. Despite millions of dollars being spent, not much has moved the needle to curb the addiction crisis. Meanwhile, every day, dozens of people are waiting for mental health treatment, sometimes warehoused in hospital emergency rooms.

"I've been covering the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire for five years; I've spoken with parents who have lost children to overdose, community leaders, physicians, police, emergency responders and those who have struggled with addiction and found recovery," Wickham said. "At the same time, another disturbing trend was emerging: So many tragedies seemed to have a connection with mental illness."

Wickham has won numerous journalism awards, including the Dennis Joos Memorial Award from the New Hampshire Press Association and a special recognition award from the New England Newspaper & Press Association for her Kuwait reporting. She also won first place in NENPA's annual Better Newspaper Competition in the category of health reporting for her coverage of the opioid crisis in New Hampshire in 2016.

"I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to spend the next year exploring innovative approaches that could make a real difference here in New Hampshire," Wickham said. "Too many lives have been lost. It's time to focus on solutions."

The project, sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, is funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and private individuals.