Prediction shows drop in opioid fatalities

By Catherine Robertson Souter
November 1st, 2017

There may be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for the New Hampshire opioid crisis. At the very least there is some positive news coming from the state’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner which released statistics for the number of drug overdose deaths in 2016 along with a prediction for 2017.

According to the data, 2016 did see an increase in drug-related deaths over 2015 but the overall rate of the increase dropped as compared to previous years. Four hundred and thirty-nine people died in 2015 and 485 in 2016.

Over the past two decades, the numbers have steadily increased. In 1995, there were fewer than 50 per year, with that number staying consistent through 2001 when rates started to climb. Deaths have increased more rapidly since 2012.

“In 2013, we saw a big jump in heroin deaths,” said Kim Fallon, chief forensic investigator for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner. “It went from about 37 deaths in 2012 to 70 in 2013.”

While many people mention heroin when they talk about the drug crisis, the biggest concern has been the rise in fentanyl-related deaths.

“In 2012, we had about 12 fentanyl deaths and 18 in 2013. But in 2014, we had 152 fentanyl deaths. Fentanyl is said to be five-100 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl, by far, causes the most drug deaths in N.H.,” Fallon said.

The prediction for 2017 sees an actual drop in number of fatalities, at 460 deaths predicted. Of course, it is a number that is still far too high, say experts.

“When we are taking about this data, we should see it as a cause of motivation not celebration,” said Devin Rowe, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Hampshire, a nonprofit organization funded by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services and the N.H. Charitable Foundation.

“In Manchester, we actually saw the highest number of overdoses in history in the month of September. So, we still need to increase resources.”

Because the 2017 numbers are, of course, not final, the end result could change drastically, with a bad month or two throwing the trend higher again.

“It is really too early to tell,” said Rowe, “but a lot of pieces are starting to come together with funds state-wide and federally being allocated towards a solution.”

In September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a $200 million federal grant to assist health centers in combating addiction.

Listed in 2015 as the second highest rate nationwide for drug-related deaths, N. H. will receive $1.7 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The funds will be divided between ten health centers.

“The funding is to be used to expand access to mental health services and substance abuse services focusing on treatment, prevention and awareness of opioid abuse,” said Martin A. Kramer, director of communications for HRSA. “The on-going funding will be used to increase health center personnel dedicated to providing these services as well.”

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