Drug overdoses killed more people last year in NH than car crashes. NH had 168 overdose deaths, and 129 car related deaths. Of those overdose deaths, 57% were caused by methadone. NH is now tied for 4th place in the nation in methadone related deaths, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This has become a hot topic of discussion recently, since a company known as Community Substance Abuse has been investigating the possibility of opening a methadone clinic in Conway. Methadone is a synthetic opiate often used in the treatment of heroin addiction. The drug reduces withdrawal symptoms, without giving the same kind of high as heroin. Methadone is also used a pain reliever, particularly in managing long term chronic pain. It has a half life in the body of 24 hours, and it’s cheap compared to Oxycontin or Vicodin. A single Oxycontin tablet can cost $5.50, where a Methadone wafer costs about $0.33.
Heroin addiction is extremely difficult to overcome. Some addicts remain on a methadone maintenance for indefinite periods of time. It’s not the perfect cure, but, it does work for some people. A brave local woman recently wrote a letter to the Conway Daily Sun recounting her experience with addiction and methadone treatment. She’s able to be a mother and a productive member of society, thanks to methadone treatment. Two of our local pharmacists have written letters about dearth of treatment options for the addicted in our area. They both advocate suboxone as an alternative to methadone, but it is considerably more expensive than methadone, and since many local residents don’t have health or prescription drug insurance, it’s not within the reach of the average person. The potential methadone clinic has (if nothing else) opened the community wide discussion about addiction and treatment, issues that most people may not be experts in.
A recent Tele-Talk question asked “How prevalent or severe do you think the drug problem is in Carroll County?” Some of the answers were most illuminating. A number of people pointed out that prescription drug abuse is a real problem here. One caller addressed both the drug and the alcohol problems in the area. There were a few predictable comments about addicts being low income losers, and of course the jolly fellow who seems to think drug users dying is the optimum solution to the addiction problem. There were also a number of knee jerk responses to the possibility of a methadone clinic from callers - mirroring the knee jerk responses of the Conway Selectmen.
I didn’t spend endless hours doing research, but I did spend a few. I was unable to find any correlation between increased crime and methadone clinics. Crow Dickinson went on at great length about how a clinic would attract heroin addicts to the area. He seemed to be giving us his opinion. He did not back up that opinion by citing studies or facts. There are clinics in other parts of the state that don’t report any increase in crime. Mr. Dickinson may have a vast body of expertise in many areas, but addiction and treatment does not appear to be one of them. Most people who go on a methadone program do so because they want to end their addiction. They know they aren’t going to get high. Those who are enrolled in a methadone program take their drugs right there on the premises - there are no needles, and they aren’t wandering off with a bunch of drugs to sell on the street, which are some of the misconceptions that have been repeated by letter writers and Tele-Talk callers.
Dr. Wayne Cunningham had a letter in the April 8 issue of the Conway Daily Sun on the topic of substance abuse in the area. He pointed out that alcohol abuse is the most serious drug problem in our area. He also addressed the need for community discussion and involvement in the problems of treatment in Carroll County. The options for substance abusers are few. Dr. Cunningham expressed hope that the conversation about substance abuse and treatment will continue. I share that hope.
Another letter on this topic came from Daniel Bacon from Conway, who is running for state rep. He believes that addicts bring their problems on themselves, and that traveling to a clinic is a “sacrifice” they should have to make. Addiction has long been classified as a chronic disease, and it’s one with a strong genetic component. It’s not a “lifestyle choice,” which seems to be Mr. Bacon’s thesis. Making people drive hours for treatment may be a suitable punishment in Mr. Bacon’s opinion, but it’s not the best strategy for recovery. Drug addiction (I include alcohol in the category of drug) and the accompanying devastation have affected most families - and has a profound impact on our communities. Addicts can recover, and become successful, productive members of the community. Shouldn’t that be our goal? His emphasis on the “wholesome healthy lifestyle” of the area (repeated several times) indicates that Mr. Bacon is living in a fantasy world that isn’t reflective of local realities. I urge voters to pay a visit to Mr. Bacon’s website; www.danielbacon.net, and check out the My Promise section. He makes two promises about health care - he’ll promote providing “for the special needs for our senior citizens.” (His grammar, not mine) and he’ll “promote the best healthcare needs of our children.” (Again, his grammar, not mine.) It seems he’ll also provide an ill-informed, knee-jerk response on some issues.
I’m not for or against the proposed clinic at this time. I’d like more information before I make a decision. I wish local elected officials would take the time to gather information from experts and study it before shooting from the uninformed lip.
“In this country, don't forget, a habit is no damn private hell. There's no solitary confinement outside of jail. A habit is hell for those you love. And in this country it's the worst kind of hell for those who love you.” Billie Holiday