Opioid awareness day comes as NH cities see spike in ODs in August
A global awareness day focused on the continuing opioid problem has come, as one New Hampshire city recorded a spike in overdoses.
Thursday, Aug. 31, is International Overdose Awareness Day. It is aimed at focusing attention on an issue that does not need any extra emphasis in the Granite State, a spot that has been pegged as a focal point for opioid addiction throughout the country.
The impact and unpredictability of opioid overdoses is evident in the staggering number experienced at one point this month by crews at AMR Ambulance working in Manchester. Chris Stawasz, regional director, said that despite a “favorable” period earlier in the month, August proved to be particularly trying.
Data compiled by Stawasz noted 52 overdoses in the Queen City from Aug. 19-26.
“We’ve had months where we’ve done 52. We did that in a week,” he said Thursday.
The one-week jump comes after an overdose high of 94 in that city for the month of June, according to statistics provided by Christopher Hickey and the Manchester Fire Department. That is 20 more than June 2016.
There was a similar rise in overdose numbers in the lakes region, said Brian Keyes, a firefighter/paramedic in Laconia and the department's recovery coordinator.
"We certainly saw a bump in August," he said.
Laconia had four overdoses in August 2016. So far there have been 13 suspected ODs this Auguest.
In that city's effort to combat the problem, Keyes looks toward the successes of the department's coordinator recovery program, which provides substance abusers direct contact to people like Laconia police officer Eric Adams.
Twenty-two people out of the 61 that have overdosed since Jan. 1 have sought recovery through the department's program.
"For every third overdose, someone goes into recovery," Keyes said. "Despite the increase in August, we still get people on a path to recovery."
The situation in Manchester shines a light on how difficult the battle can be for first-responders.
“None of them were fatal," said AMR's Stawasz, "but it is still a tremendous amount of overdoses that are significantly taxing the system.
AMR operates 10 ambulance crews at night in the state’s two largest cities, Manchester and Nashua, and about 20 during the day.
“It takes its toll on every police officer, firefighter and EMS worker,” Stawasz said. “These are not easy calls to do. They are calls where an individual is close to death and we bring them back from the edge.
“It’s our job, but the sheer volume is tough to manage.”
Awareness provided by such things as International Overdose Awareness Day is important to Keyes.
"We can link the small successes in Laconia to the reduction of stigma," he said. "Nine of 10 will never reach out for help on their own. The reason is the stigma attached to substance use disorder. They are too ashamed."
On the front end, the influx continues.
"The bottom line is the demand is there," said Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie.
He said a vast majority of crimes committed in Nashua can be attributed in some way to substance misuse or abuse.
"All we can do is continue to attack that supply."
Lavoie said heroin has long been a societal problem, but the “game changer” is Fentanyl and Carfentanil.
"Now it's in the forefront not only because they are doing it. They are overdosing when before they weren't," he said.
Closer to the Seacoast, Rochester Assistant Fire Chief Mark Dupuis said there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.
“I don’t know when they’re even going to solve this issue,” he said.
It's a sentiment that others echoed.
“The supply is ample and the demand is high," Stawasz said. "They’re very good at distribution and supply.”
"This is not going to be a quick fix," Lavoie said. "They are expert marketers. They constantly change."
“We’re trying to get a leg up on it,” said Keyes. “It’s still here. I think it will still be here for awhile.”