LACONIA — Detective Chris Noyes, who leads the Police Department's effort against drug trafficking, told the City Council last night that as the volume of prescription drugs on the street has dwindled, heroin has taken their place as the drug of choice among those addicted to opiates, who he estimated number between 300 and 500, or as many as three-percent of the population.
Police Chief Chris Adams reminded that councilors that two years ago, following after a rash of fatal overdoses, as many as a dozen uniformed officers and support staff were assigned to a project to address the dealing and abuse of drugs in the city. He said that although there were no fatal overdoses in 2012, three have died this year and drug cases have risen 16-percent, an increase that reflected stiffer enforcement. At the same time, crimes against persons and property, most of which are associated with drugs, dropped 22-percent and 6-percent respectively.
Noyes said that "there has been quite a dip" in trafficking in prescriptions opiates, particularly oxycodone, with tighter controls on their distribution. Likewise, the supply of methamphetamines has dwindled after several small labs were discovered and the cooks jailed. But, he stressed that users have substituted heroin as supplies rose and prices fell, adding that police have recovered pressed heroin pills, which are very rare in New Hampshire.
"These are poly drug users," Noyes said. "They don't care. It's anything they can get."
He explained that if they can't get one drug they will substitute another. Once they are addicted, if they can't get their drug of choice they may take what he called "a gap drug," like buprenorphine, a semi-synthetic opiate, just to avoid to being sick. "They're just buying time," he said. "They're not getting high. They're just noting getting sick." Noyes said that most addicts ranged in age from "19 to 20 to middle to late 30s," with the youngest, those just leaving high school, representing "the biggest spike in using and dealing."
In response to a question from City Councilor Matt Lahey (Ward 2), Noyes said that although most addicts "don't like where they're at," they find it difficult to enter a rehab facility and even more difficult to kick their habit. He agreed that more therapeutic programs in correctional institutions, like those contemplated as part of a new Belknap County Jail, would be beneficial. "Jail is where most get rehab services," Noyes said, while Adams interrupted to recall a current student at Lakes Region Community College told him "being arrested was the best thing that ever happened to him."
Traci Fowler of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, Inc, who coordinates regional efforts to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, told the councilors that Laconia is among a handful of municipalities where a coalition of of residents — "Stand Up Laconia" — to address alcohol and drug use among young people. She emphasized that the longer adolescents go without drinking or using, the greater the likelihood they will escape addiction.
Fowler said that a successful prevention program requires a broad-based community effort, engaging law enforcement, educators, health care providers and parents, pursuing "best practices," which have been proven effective.
NOTE: The City Council was without a quorum last night and could not transact business. Mayor Mike Seymour, along with Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Brenda Baer (Ward 4) were absent last night. Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), the mayor pro-tem, presided. The only item on the agenda requiring action was the acceptance of a grant on behalf of the Laconia Airport Authority to fund erection of wildlife perimeter fence, which will be taken up at the first meeting next month.