LACONIA — "I cannot emphasize enough what trouble our state is in," began Tym Rourke, addressing the annual meeting of Better Together this week. "We are terrible," he continued. "Our young adults have among the highest rates of (drug & alcohol) addiction in the country."
This year Better Together celebrated Stand Up Laconia, the coalition of adults and youth who live, learn or work in the city who come together to curb alcohol and drug use among young people and encourage positive, healthy relationships within families and peer groups. "We're empowering our youth to make good, healthy choices," said Clare Perrson, who chairs the coalition.
Rourke, the director of the substance abuse program of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, noted that although New Hampshire is often ranked among the healthiest states in the union, the percentage of those aged between 18 and 25 levels misusing alcohol and drugs, both prescription medications and illicit drugs, exceed regional and national averages. "Substance abuse is a young person's disease," he said, adding that last year more New Hampshire residents died of drug overdoses than in traffic accidents, on of the very few states where that is the case.
While New Hampshire ranks high in the incidence of substance abuse, only Texas offers treatment to a smaller share of those requiring it. "We're next to last," Rourke said, explaining that less than 6 percent of those in need of treatment receive it. "Residential treatment, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment," he said, "we lack all of them."
The cost to the community, Rourke said, is extraordinary. He cite one study that measured the cost of alcohol abuse among adult men that concluded it costs the state $1.15 billion annually. The cost is much greater when other forms of substance abuse are included in the mix. As an example, Rourke pointed to David Kwiatkowski, the technician at Exeter Hospital whose drug addiction led to infecting 45 people in at least eight states with hepatitis C.
Substance abuse, Rourke described as "ultimately a community issue. It's no one's fault," he remarked, "but it's everyone's responsibility."
Perrson said that Stand Up Laconia was the very kind of community initiative Rourke envisioned. She stressed that since the coalition came together virtually all sections of the community — the schools, businesses, civic organizations, service clubs, and municipal departments — have become engaged in the initiative.
However, turning to parents, she admitted "that's the part that really seems to be missing. "We're not going to sit back and let the kids figure it out by themselves," she continued. "They show up for all the plays, concerts and sporting events, but we need to start showing up for our kids and hearing what they have to say."
"We really need lots of hands," Perrson said, urging parents to visit the coalition's website — standuplaconia.com — and participate.
"Addiction," Rourke called "a disease of belonging" that must be addressed by "collective action with collective impacts" by community coalitions like Stand Up Laconia pursuing a strategy to affect change.