A discarded heroin needle in the Northeast is a symbol of rampant opiate abuse. (Courtesy photo)
By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
Young adults in New Hampshire between the ages of 18 and 25 misuse alcohol and opiates such as prescription drugs and heroin at the highest rate in the nation when compared to other young adults across the United States, a new report has determined.
The study, titled "The Voice of New Hampshire Young Adults," provides a snapshot of young people's attitudes and perceptions surrounding substance misuse. The study was released earlier this month by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.
In Laconia, police recognize that heroin has become a cheaper alternative to prescription drugs, and that underage drinking is a persistent problem that they tackle with awareness events.
"We do a pretty big awareness campaign before prom season," Laconia Police Capt. Matt Canfield said, referring to efforts to deter young people from underage drinking. Called "fatal reality," the mock crash scene with a drunk driver includes a re-enactment of the extrication, arrest and other aspects of a tragic drunk-driving fatality.
Officer Steve Orton, Laconia's school resource officer, works with students, especially at the high school, Canfield said.
Police offer awareness talks in schools, and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program operates in fifth grade and elementary level, with a condensed version in the winter at the middle school.
"One positive thing here in Laconia is that there's a lot of commitment from the school district, particularly the high school and the middle school," said Canfield, pointing to community support and activities by groups such as Stand Up Laconia (http://www.standuplaconia.com).
"Unfortunately we do see kids who get out of high school who are in questionable situations where they're tempted or peer pressured to try drugs, and the problem with opiates like heroin is they're super addictive, so if you try it one time, you can develop an addiction just based on that. Unfortunately, we see that here in Laconia," Canfield said.
A goal of the study, according to the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, was to identify "opioid misuse prevalence" among two primary groups, 18– to 20-year-olds and 21– to 25-year-olds, in an effort to better understand the patterns of use relating to binge drinking and use of opioids.
The study ran from October 2015 to December 2015 with participation from the 13 Regional Public Health Networks under contract with the Department of Health and Human Services. With support from DHHS and the department's contracted Center for Excellence, officials conducted 57 focus groups with 366 young adults. The project also used geo-targeted Facebook ads to reach New Hampshire residents in this age range, and conducted an online survey that included the participation of more than 4,330 young adults living in New Hampshire.
• "Participants felt that youth and young adults are exposed to binge drinking at earlier ages. One participant said, 'Boredom is the primary reason for drinking. Many teens just want friends and to fit in, so they start drinking. Drinking helps you relax.' Boredom, stress-relief, and peer pressure were the most common reasons given as to why young people choose to binge drink."
• "The general consensus was that prescription drugs are very easy to get and always available. Over one-third of the groups (34 percent) mentioned it being easy to get prescription medication from a doctor, friends, or a home medicine cabinet."
• "Heroin is, according to the respondents, becoming a fad and just a normal thing to do. One participant said, 'In [my town] it is easier to get heroin than to get pot; people are switching over.'"
• "Nearly one quarter of the groups (24.1 percent) shared comments related to heroin being the cheaper alternative to prescription drugs. One respondent stated, 'The cheap price made me think that I was getting more out of it and higher from using heroin, when really I didn't even know what's in it.'"
• Parents can't count on learning about a child's misuse of alcohol or drugs. The study found that 62.8 percent of young adults "reported that they would consult a friend if they needed to talk to someone about a serious problem, whereas only 51.3 percent of young adults would consult either their parents or guardians about a serious problem. These findings indicate that the youth are more likely to consult their peers in time of need."
In the past five years, New Hampshire has seen a 191 percent increase in drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire in 2016 is expected to exceed 500, based on data from the New Hampshire Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 83 percent of all known drug overdose deaths are related to opiates, and about 68 percent of all overdose deaths have involved Fentanyl, a synthetic pain killer, officials reported.
State officials ordered 6,000 kits of the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone in 2015 to help combat the opioid crisis. According to the new report, young adults in New Hampshire (18 to 25 years of age) are using prescription painkillers non-medically at higher rates (9.8 percent) than other states in the Northeast region (7.8 percent) and the rest of the nation (8.3 percent).
In "The Voice of New Hampshire Young Adults" study, focus group participants were recruited by coordinators from various venues such as bookstores, coffee shops, vaping lounges, tattoo parlors or laundromats, state officials reported.
"Over one third (34.5 percent) of survey respondents stated that they have had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row, within a couple of hours in the past 30 days. Of those, half (50.6 percent) expressed that they had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row on 1-2 days out of the past month. ..." the study's author reported.
The study found that college students fit the stereotype of partying drinkers, with "a relatively high rate of binge drinking. ... When looking at patterns of use by age, the respondents in the 21-25 age group reported significantly higher rates of binge drinking and cocaine use, while the 18- to 20-year-olds reported higher rates of e-cigarette and marijuana use."
Again, New Hampshire led the country on rates of binge drinking and drugs.
"New Hampshire's young adults reported higher rates of binge drinking in the past 30 days then the Northeast region or the country as a whole. ... (And) 34.6 percent reported using tobacco and 28.6 percent reported using marijuana in the past month. Five percent (4.9 percent) indicated they had used a prescription drug without a doctor's orders in the past month," the study reported.
Marijuana use may shift now that Maine has passed a legalization measure.
After recounting 30 percent of the statewide vote, the "No on 1" campaign in Maine has conceded and withdrawn their recount request, meaning marijuana will officially be legal in Maine following a referendum vote, advocates of legalization reported this month. Marijuana possession and home cultivation will become legal 30 days after Gov. Paul LePage proclaims the election results, according to the "Yes on 1" campaign.
In the New Hampshire study, marijuana use (for non-medical purposes) ranged from 34 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds; 27.7 percent of 21- to 25-year-olds; and 25.4 percent of 26- to 30-year-olds, based on responses.
This study, supported by funding from the Federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, "will serve as a blueprint for targeted prevention efforts in New Hampshire, assessed young adults' risk behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes related to binge drinking and the illicit use of opioids (including prescription drugs and heroin)," according to the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.
To read a copy of "The Voice of New Hampshire Young Adults," visit http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcbcs/bdas/ and scroll down to the study link.
Young adults in New Hampshire experience a higher rate of illicit drug dependence and abuse (8.2 percent) than other states in the Northeast region (7.6 percent) and the rest of the nation (7.0 percent), according to the newly released "The Voice of New Hampshire Young Adults" report.
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