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LeRoy: Taking down the dragon

From the Left

By Brendan LeRoy

In October 2014, Rockingham County joined Hillsborough County as a high intensity drug trafficking area. The benefit of this designation is that local officials are allocated federal dollars to combat drug use, abuse and distribution. In my hometown of Derry, I have witnessed the 25 percent growth of the police force as a result of the federal aid with the intent to tackle southeastern New Hampshire’s growing heroin problems.

Without being aware of all of the facts, I became insulted when I was told of the intent by the Manchester City Council to ban panhandling. Similar action has been discussed in Nashua, and if passed, the two cities would join Concord in issuing $500 fines for receiving money from motorists by standing in the median. Despite the suspicion that most panhandlers are scammers, I feared that the ordinance would hurt the homeless who rely on panhandling as a source of income; the sole benefit of the laws being a shield from feeling that emotional tug called our conscience.

The argument used by Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and the City Council is that the panhandlers are professionals who prey on the emotions of others in order to make a living. Kathy Kuhn, director of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness agrees with Gatsas, stating that of the 1,600 homeless in New Hampshire, most panhandlers who plea to motorists are scammers, while the legitimately homeless panhandlers are more often than not stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction.

Panhandling is a symptom of a much greater problem plaguing southeastern New Hampshire; the expanding abuse of illegal opioids which the Department of Health and Human Services has stated to be an ‘epidemic.’ For some time now I have been aware of the growing use of heroin in the area but it was not until I researched into the panhandling ordinances that I became aware of the growing public health crisis. From Sen. Kelly Ayotte to the Department of Health and Human Services, from local and state police to Gov. Maggie Hassan, there has been a demand for action.

On April 1, the House of Representatives slashed $300 million from the governor’s proposed budget for 2016-17, including $6 million in essential funding allocated for substance abuse prevention, requested by the Governor, Senators Ayotte and Shaheen, law enforcement and the DHHS. The growing problem of heroin use has been dramatic; in 2004 only one percent of people aged 12 and over reported having ever used heroin. By 2014 that number has skyrocketed to one in 20. The problem has not been limited to the state’s urban areas with drug busts in Nashua, Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth, Derry, Merrimack, Rochester, Dover, Laconia, Salem and Bedford.

Lawmakers had to walk by about 400 demonstrators playing dead at the Statehouse plaza on April 1, representing the hundreds who have lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2014. In 2010 heroin overdose deaths amounted to 14 but last year’s total exceeds 300. In 2010, Manchester City Police reported 45 grams of heroin confiscation, but by 2014 that number exceeds two kilograms. In 2012, 13 percent of all arrests leading to blood and urine tests were attributed to heroin. New Hampshire does not allocate the resources to tackle the problem; the state already places 49th in the nation for substance abuse funding due to 1,200 percent in funding cuts since the 1980s.

Along with much of the nation, New Hampshire had a problem with narcotic pain relievers over the first decade of the 2000s, which led to a strong FDA crackdown to reduce abuse. Consistent with the reduced availability of narcotics, the rise in illicit opioids and fentanyl has increased dramatically in New Hampshire and 27 other states. According to Portsmouth Deputy Chief Corey MacDonald the purity of heroin in New Hampshire hovers around 30 percent. Unlike narcotics, heroin is unregulated therefore the purity is unknown. If heroin with a higher purity is consumed it often leads to overdose and all too often death.

Actions to address the growing heroin problems by the state have been independent of the General Court. The Department of Health and Human Services has opened the website providing resources for drug addiction. Former Attorney General and sitting U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte has been working within the federal government and alongside local law enforcement to address how to best approach the problem. Sen. Ayotte and Gov. Hassan have enacted rules for law enforcement to use Narcon as necessary, a life-saving prescription medication for those who have overdosed. The drug already has been used hundreds of times by law enforcement throughout southern New Hampshire.

Yet the House of Representatives was finally presented with the opportunity to allocate much needed resources to social services, the Department of Health and Human Services and to state and local police to address one of the worst public health issues in the state’s history. The mayor of Manchester has spoken out against the budget as detrimental to the efforts of the city, the state police said this is a problem which arresting cannot solve. On Wednesday, the House rejected funding to combat this health crisis 212-161. House Speaker Bill O’Brien applauded the budget as a success, that “Republicans came together to pass a budget that kept its promises of no new taxes and fiscal responsibility.” Instead, O’Brien’s Republicans came together that rejected the plea of local communities, law enforcement and the DHHS to fight one of the greatest public health epidemics that has far reaching and rapidly expanding social and economic consequences. The budget now proceeds to the Senate, let’s hope they will be the check on the House by executing rational thought.

Brendan LeRoy is a junior majoring in linguistics.

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