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By Nik Beimler
Posted Mar. 30, 2016 at 9:32 PM
DOVER — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., met with a gathering of representatives from Dover, Rochester and Somersworth to discuss the opioid crisis, calling the situation a ‘pandemic.’
Shaheen is working at the federal level to secure funding and resources for communities throughout the state and the country to fight addiction. The goal of the meeting, called the Tri-City Mayors Summit on the Opioid Addiction Crisis, was to see what the cities can do to help Shaheen in her fight.
“Your experience helps give me ammunition in Washington to talk about what you’re seeing,” Shaheen said. “What you’re seeing in terms of the challenges and what you’re seeing in terms of what works and what we should be supporting.”
Representatives from all three cities, especially the police departments and hospitals, called the process of solving the crisis a “marathon.” Three common themes discussed by those in attendance were community outreach, communication among cities and towns and the lack of necessary facilities, beds and recovery personnel.
“We need funding,” said Dover Police Chief Anthony Colarusso. “We need an army of recovery coaches who are ready day or night.”
Rochester Police Chief Michael Allen said that in recent years, drug arrests have risen, but incidents of overdoses have been rising even faster.
“Arresting our way out of this issue is simply not an effective strategy moving forward,” Allen said. “… Law enforcement has really changed their mindset in terms of how we really need to focus or need to focus on to change this issue.”
“We could make 100 arrests a day,” but see no real impact on supply, added Somersworth Police Lt. Timothy McLin.
McLin praised several anti-drug programs operating in Somersworth, including a drug collection box where 367 pounds of drugs, many of them opiates, were deposited in 2015.
Colarusso agreed with McLin and Allen that more funding needs to be directed toward prevention and treatment, but added that enforcement needed to remain a part of the solution.
“We still need to keep the pressure on those drug dealers that want to profit on these people who are addicted,” Colarusso said.
Colarusso also advocated for a national community outreach and educational effort similar to the national response to tobacco addiction, which he says has been very successful.
The U.S. Senate recently approved a bill to fight the opioid crisis, but a measure led by Shaheen to secure $600 million in emergency funding was defeated. Shaheen said that there will be another chance to secure that funding now that the appropriations process is in progress.
“I think it’s gone beyond the epidemic stage and is a pandemic,” Shaheen said. “I think it’s the major public health threat we face in New Hampshire and in much of the United States.”
Dover Mayor Karen Weston, who organized the summit, said she will be putting a resolution before the city council voicing support for Shaheen’s funding bill.
“I just don’t understand how anybody could not sign on to this bill,” Weston said. “Every community throughout the United States is facing this problem.”
Anyone seeking help with opioid addiction is encouraged to call 211 or visit nhtreatment.org.