With the heroin crisis in New Hampshire reaching epidemic proportions, a Londonderry alcohol and drug addiction nurse is taking action, working with friends to establish a non-profit to help people suffering from addiction obtain the resources they need.
The mission of Southern New Hampshire Opiate Freedom, which Senior Vice-President Jean Kelly co-founded in the last couple of months, is to “provide help where the need is greatest.”
Kelly shares a unique perspective on heroin addiction, having served as a nurse to those suffering from the symptoms of withdrawal.
“My own perception is this, we have a number of non-profits and organizations with a particular mission they want to accomplish. I think we need one force that can round them up all together and force people to go to a whole program without being able to check themselves out,” she said, advocating for more funding for institutionalized treatment of people with heroin addiction. “The problem with the court-ordered approach is people will go through five to six days of detox and are feeling better with medication; so they leave detox and say they’ll go to another program. But, without the meds helping them, they start to feel bad and the first thing they do is go right back to using the drug. It’s a vicious cycle. If we had a drug course, detox and continuation of recovery to change their behaviors, I think they’d have a much better chance.”
Kelly noted the cost of treatment for people suffering from heroin addiction can be overwhelming, particularly for young people seeking treatment and families of people who fall back into addiction repeatedly after leaving detox.
“The kids who have $5,000 deductibles – where are they going to come up with that kind of money?” Kelly asked. “And what about the family paying for their kid to go to a program. If they do, after six days of detox, the kids are back on the street. Kids sign themselves out and are doing the same thing again.”
According to the 2015 KIDS Count Data Book, New Hampshire has the highest rate of substance abuse among teens, despite the State’s ranking as second for overall child well-being.
“Our rising rates of youth substance abuse kept us from reclaiming the top spot,” Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a July 21 announcement, which included the release of an initial list of 22 recommendations from Senior Director of Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Jack Wozmak.
Those recommendations, aimed at strengthening the state’s efforts to combat the opioid and substance misuse crisis, include making it easier for families to access Narcan (used to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose), expanding access to substance abuse treatment, strengthening the provider network, facilitating more substance abuse treatment for people involved in the legal system and boosting education and awareness efforts.
“New Hampshire is in the midst of a profound public health crisis that affects the quality and availability of the workforce, drains the economy of resources and interferes with economic growth,” Wozmak said. “The human toll cannot be measured. To address this crisis we must reach out to our youngest citizens and impart the strongest prevention messages possible – we must change the way the next generation thinks about all substances that they ingest, we must provide treatment for those who are currently addicted and we must provide avenues of recovery to help our citizens remain healthy.”
Kelly believes an important component to addressing the heroin crisis in New Hampshire is establishing a drug court that will send those suffering from addiction to an intensive drug program rather than jail.
Part of Kelly’s new non-profit involves taking people who are in jail for crimes related to their drug addiction and helping them access rehabilitation services.
“Many people are not wanting to go back to the same old thing, but they only have the streets to go back to,” she said.
“The opioid and substance misuse crisis facing our state is our most pressing public health and safety challenge,” Hassan said in a press release. “The growing number of opioid users and the increasing number of overdose deaths affect families and communities across the state, touching people from all walks of life. As these recommendations make clear, we must tackle this challenge with a multi-pronged approach, focusing on prevention, treatment and recovery. In the words of law enforcement officials, we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis.”
“It has taken 20 years for us to reach this point,” Wozmak said. “The time to act is upon us. These initiatives require the cooperation and focus of thousands of Granite Staters from all walks of life. I have no doubt that New Hampshire can be a model for the rest of the country as we embark on this multifaceted approach to this crisis.”
Although fundraising for rehabilitation treatment addresses the immediate need of those who are suffering from heroin addiction in New Hampshire, Kelly grants there’s no easy solution to the crisis.
As an addiction nurse, Kelly said she has seen people from all demographics addicted to heroin and opiates.
“I had a patient at one time who was working in the medical field and worked in the Operating Room as a surgical technician. The nurses and doctors would use Propofol and all those drugs and put them in biohazards, and they would go in the vials and extract whatever little bit was left,” she said, noting they are starting to see people gaining access to Fentanyl, an anesthetizing drug used in surgery. “People are getting it from everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you have no money, or you’re a billionaire.”
Perhaps one of the most significant issues Kelly raises is the rate at which prescriptions for minor pains and medical procedures are being written, with the increased use causing higher numbers of people to become addicted.
When it becomes too expensive to get the prescription filled, they turn to heroin because it’s less expensive and easier to get.
Kelly recently held a successful fundraiser for Southern New Hampshire Opiate Freedom at the Manchester Fire Station and is organizing another informational, fundraising event at Harley-Davidson in Manchester on Aug. 3.
The non-profit will offer informational materials, and guests will have a chance to compete on a mechanical bull for a $1,000 prize. The event will also feature a 50/50 raffle.
An additional informational and fundraising event at Harley-Davidson on Aug. 22 will feature a picnic, with hot dogs, hamburgers and informational brochures.
For more information about Southern New Hampshire Opiate Freedom, visit www.snhof.org, which features a memorial page for persons who lost their battle with addiction.