Since being incorporated in 1746, Merrimack has grown from a population of around 800 to more than 25,600. The town has four villages that include Reeds Ferry, Souhegan Village and South Merrimack, as well as Thorntons Ferry. Like the rest of New England, Merrimack has historical roots that date back to the 1600s. The first log cabin was built in 1665, but the area was not truly settled until the 1720s. As of 2017, Merrimack was estimated to have 10,087 housing units. Residents enjoy municipal parks, golf courses and other outdoor recreational features such as tennis courts, swimming pools and youth sports. Since snow falls in the area, there are many popular snowmobile trails too.
Residents have the opportunity to enjoy what nature has to offer, but similarly to other communities in New England, Merrimack has been experiencing the negative effects of the overdose epidemic. This region of the United States is among the hardest hit, so the respective government leaders have taken action.
Drug Overdose Statistics
Data gathered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that there were 67,367 U.S. drug overdose deaths reported in 2018. This was a 4.1% decrease from 2017. Even though the drop was good news for those trying to combat the opioid epidemic, the number was still four times the number of deaths from 1999.
In New Hampshire, there were 412 opioid-related deaths for 2018. Considering the relatively low population of the state, this translates to a rate of 33.1 deaths per 100,000 residents. That’s significantly higher than the national rate of 20.7.
Understanding the Epidemic
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have come up with four opioid categories:
• Natural opioids, such as morphine and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone, including oxymorphone
• Synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as tramadol and fentanyl
In the United States, heart disease was still the leading cause of death in 2017. When it comes to injury-related deaths, drug overdose is the leading cause. The CDC estimates that in all the overdose deaths that were reported, 70% involved at least one opioid.
The 2018 data shows that the number of deaths due to prescription opioids and heroin had decreased nationally. The number of deaths due to at least one synthetic opioid, however, increased. The reason why synthetic opioids have gained traction among Americans is that they can be procured illegally. Plus, the potency of the synthetic versions is far higher than it is for natural opioids. When the data was filtered by state, New Hampshire was sixth in highest overdose deaths in 2018.
When you try to understand the epidemic, keep in mind that it did not occur overnight. This is decades in the making. In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies convinced doctors to begin prescribing opioids to their patients. Opioids are designed for pain relief with a higher level of effectiveness due to their potency. That potency has led to unprecedented rates of addiction. The first wave of the epidemic started in 1999. The second wave started in 2010 when the number of overdose deaths involving heroin increased. An increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids marks the third wave that began in 2013. The CDC acknowledges that the epidemic is a multi-layered issue.
It was discovered during the second wave that the increase in heroin cases was due to prescription opioids. In the 1960s, opioids were used to wean patients off heroin, so the medical community believed heroin use was spiking again on its own. It was not until a few years later that they realized patients were moving from prescription opioids to heroin.
When you take a look at the overdose epidemic, it’s important to understand that an opioid is often accompanied by a second substance. During the current third wave, many overdose deaths are being caused by synthetic opioids, namely fentanyl. The potency of those opioids is increased when manufacturers mix in heroin or cocaine. It’s not uncommon for the user to swallow synthetic opioids in pill form with alcohol.
Cocaine was involved in one out of every five overdose deaths in 2017. From 2006-2012, there was a decrease in cocaine-involved overdose deaths. As synthetic opioid deaths increased, so did cocaine use. Many also abuse psychostimulants, which include illicit drugs like methamphetamine and ecstasy. Psychostimulants are used to treat ADHD and depression. The issue is that they are often misused. In 2017, there was a 37% increase in potential abuse of this substance.
Although marijuana is being legalized, it does not mean that the substance is no longer being abused. In 2016, it was estimated that around 4 million, or 1.5%, of the population, had a marijuana use disorder in the past year. Polysubstance is also on the CDC’s radar because users consume a substance and do not truly know what it is. They may be told it is cocaine, but because cocaine is a white powder substance, it could be corn starch or baby powder mixed in with something else. In the worst-case scenario, the substance is simply a concoction of hazardous chemicals that leads to death when consumed.
Fentanyl contamination is the big one. The CDC acknowledges that fentanyl contamination is driving up the number of overdose deaths. Fentanyl is estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin. In many cases, fentanyl is mixed in with counterfeit opioid pills, heroin or cocaine as well as methamphetamine.
These realities are why government officials have taken action, especially in harder-hit regions like the northeast.
Help Is Available
For the town of Merrimack, the Merrimack Police Department is among the agencies tasked with being first responders to overdose emergency calls and cases. Residents also have access to the New Hampshire Statewide Addiction Crisis Line. There’s the NH Drug Monitoring Initiative as well. Its purpose is to obtain data from various resources and provide information about trends to stakeholders.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services has dedicated resources to the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services. The Department noted that in 2015, at least 400 people in the Granite State passed away due to a drug overdose. This number was 2.5 times higher than overdoses in 2011. The majority of the overdoses in 2015 were related to opioids.
Why Is Combating the Epidemic Important?
In New Hampshire, government officials and state leadership noted that drug overdose deaths have repercussions. Repercussions include:
• Neglect of loved ones
• Child and elder abuse
• Newborns experiencing withdrawal
• Liver damage
• Heart problems
• Possibility of contracting HIV or hepatitis C
The effects have been devastating for families and the community. When there is an increase in unemployment and homelessness, there is more likely to be an uptick in crime. The cost to the community is in the millions.
For Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)/Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS), the New Hampshire rates were not available, but the CDC notes that the national rate was seven cases per 1,000 hospital births in 2016. It is estimated that 7,700 persons are living with hepatitis C in New Hampshire based on data from 2013-2016. New HIV diagnosis rates were not available for this state through the CDC either, but the national rate for 2017 was 9.7% (3,690) of the 38,226 new HIV diagnoses caused by injection drug use.
Self-Help in New Hampshire
The Merrimack Police Department offers a list of self-help resources online. The resources include statistics as well as educational material. Residents can find information about:
• Effects of drug abuse
• Substance use disorder resources in New Hampshire
• Substance use disorder and dental care
• Drug abuse prevention and parents
• Substance use disorder and senior citizens
• Harms of excessive drinking
Individuals who are in an emergency situation are encouraged to call for help as soon as possible. In these cases, a first responder determines the best course of action based on the symptoms an individual is showing. They may administer medication to reverse an overdose. Then, they may drop off the patient at a hospital for further treatment.
When you have time to read through the resources at your disposal, you’ll see that there are several treatment options available, too.
A person experiencing a substance use disorder has to acknowledge it first. Nothing can be done for that person if they do not take that step willingly and on their own. There are a few cases where the decision is made for them because a court of law decides that they are a danger to themselves and society. It is far easier for an individual to make the decision, though.
Treatment options include:
• Anonymous meetings
With these options, there are publicly funded programs as well as clinics that you pay for through insurance and out of your own pocket. The public options get the job done, but remember that the length of time you can stay in one of these inpatient patient programs is limited because others are waiting. The public options have a budget they must adhere to, and they have to maximize every dollar, so it is not going to be a day at a resort. It will, however, get you back on the road to sobriety.
If you opt for a private option, you will find that the costs, programs offered and available amenities vary. Green Mountain Treatment Center, for example, is located in a secluded, panoramic and serene area of New Hampshire that has a view of the White Mountains and the Lakes Region. Green Mountain Treatment Center is a private option that’s designed to feel like a resort. Your focus during your stay will be your recovery. So, the backdrop is therapeutic, and the environment is stress-free. Recovery is intense, so the intensity should only come from the progress you make toward re-wiring your brain, not because you are running into any triggers that led you to a substance use disorder.
At Green Mountain Treatment Center, programs available to patients are:
• Individualized treatment plans
• Medical detox
• 12-step centered curriculum
• Holistic therapies
• Evidence-based clinical treatment
• Co-occurring mental health treatment
Amenities available to patients are:
• Nutritious chef-prepared meals
• Yoga and meditation
• On-site gym
• Gender-separate accommodations and programs
The point of going through a residential primary drug rehab program is to:
• Understand why you fell into addiction
• Learn how to cope, resist and exit tempting situations
At Green Mountain Treatment Center, the entire staff helps each patient build a solid foundation that delivers a lasting recovery.
Before you begin any program, you have to go through detox beforehand. Medical detox is recommended for those who have a high-to-manageable withdrawal risk. The toughest part of the process will be the withdrawal symptoms. Those symptoms vary from patient to patient. It depends on what substance was being used, how long it was used and if there is a co-occurring mental health issue, too. If you opt for a medical detox, you’ll have trained staff at your side until you get over that hill.
Therapy and Counseling
Drugs are chemicals, and these chemicals change the chemistry of the brain. Once your brain craves the reward that drugs deliver, it has to be re-wired to accept a sober state again. To re-wire your brain, you need to go through therapy and counseling. Some patients require anger management while others are going to need cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients learn how to achieve relapse prevention when they leave the treatment center and are back in the environment that may have caused the addiction.
Residents of the town of Merrimack do not have to battle substance use disorder alone. From 24/7 hotlines to in-person help, resources are at your disposal. Contact Green Mountain Treatment Center today to take your first step toward recovery.