12-22 Study: NH leads nation in youths binge drinking, abusing opiates

12-30 youth drug abuse needle

A discarded heroin needle in the Northeast is a symbol of rampant opiate abuse. (Courtesy photo)


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.
Results included:
• "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.

12-30 youth drug abuse graph

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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Vehicle storage at The Weirs scuttled again


LACONIA — In a decision that highlighted an anomaly in the zoning ordinance, the Zoning Board of Adjustment scuttled a proposal to build a heated indoor storage facility holding automobiles, recreational vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, trailers and watercraft on Watson Road near its intersection with US Route 3 at The Weirs.

Charlie Morgan, the owner of Vault Motor Storage of Merrimack, proposed constructing an 80,500-square-foot building on five acres of the 6.55-acre lot that houses the Boot Hill Saloon, which would remain on the western portion of the property. The property lies within the Commercial Resort District where the zoning ordinance allows commercial boat storage, self-storage units, outdoor storage, commercial parking lots and even sexually oriented businesses, but prohibits the commercial storage of vehicles. Consequently, Morgan required a variance to house vehicles in the proposed storage facility.

Eric Mitchell of Mitchell Engineering explained the the facility would be built parallel to Watson Road on land sloping to the northwest. With a peaked roof, the building would be 26 feet high at the front and, with the slope of the land, 40 feet high the rear, well within the maximum height allowance of 60 feet.

"We are very mindful of the view of the building," he noted.

He said that everything would be taken in and out of the building by an employee and nothing would be stored outside the building. Traffic in and out of the facility, he said, would be heaviest for several weeks in fall and spring and otherwise minimal.

"It's a warehouse," said Elizabeth Stone, "and it doesn't belong in our neighborhood. It belongs in an industrial park." A former member of the Conservation Commission, Stone said that the removal of trees would increase storm water run-off on the sloping land, where the water table is high. She also warned against the adverse effects of light pollution and increased traffic.

"I can't see how this would enhance our neighborhood," said Stone. She described Watson Road as "a pristine area with spectacular views" that would be marred by a "highly visible building."

Stone was echoed by a number of other residents, all of whom said the facility would be an inappropriate use for the property, and that it would have adverse impacts on the natural environment and impair the values of nearby properties. In addition, another eight property owners, most from Watson Road and Scenic Road, wrote letters to the board in opposition to the proposal.

Russ Poirier, a real estate agent representing the owner of the property, reminded the members of the ZBA that a number of other uses, all of which would have the same or similar effects that neighboring property owners feared, would be permitted on the property as a matter of right, with no requirement for a variance or special exception. At the same time, he said that there are similar buildings in the vicinity, including strip malls on US Route 3 and Funspot.

Board members were not persuaded, but instead found the proposal contrary to the public interest and the spirit of the ordinance. Moreover, the board ruled that there is no reason to suppose the project would not impair the value of neighboring properties or impose a hardship on the applicant since there are other suitable sites for an indoor storage facility in the city.

Originally Morgan sought to build a 140,000-square-foot tiered indoor storage facility on the 11.3-acre property that was once home to Surf Coaster USA, which closed a decade ago. However, he abandoned the project even before seeking the required variance when it met with stiff opposition from residents and business owners at The Weirs.

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County comes close to denying workers their paychecks over procedure questions


LACONIA — Belknap County workers will receive their holiday paychecks following a reversal of a 4-3 vote of the Belknap County Delegation's Executive Committee Tuesday morning against a $84,492 budge transfer sought by Belknap County Commissioners.

"Gentlemen, we have a problem. We have people who have to be paid," said Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), immediately after the vote. Following a short discussion of the impact of the vote, Rep. David Huot (R-Laconia) said that the Executive Committee had just voted "not to pay its help at Christmas."

When Executive Committee Chairman Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) objected to Huot's comment and attempted to make a change to it, Huot said "Don't try to correct my statement. I made it for the record and it stands." Sylvia said he disagreed with the statement and the impact of the vote.

Voting with Sylvia to deny the transfer request were Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), chairman of the delegation, Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith) and Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia). Voting with Huot to grant the request were Rep. Glenn Aldrich (R-Gilford) and Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton).

Sylvia said that the timing of the transfer request coming so late in the year and the fact that it never even came before the County Delegation until last week were concerns for the legislators that needed to be dealt with. Abear said it appears that there is a problem with the county's basic accounting procedures and that they would vote yes to the transfer in order to pay county workers, but first "We need to come to an understanding on how to handle this."

DeVoy said the commissioners have come to the delegation as soon as they are aware there is a problem and that the payroll issue was the result of a miscalculation of the number off payrolls left in the year. After the committee completed action on other transfer requests, Sylvia asked if anyone who had voted in the majority wanted to reconsider the action. Vadney moved to reconsider, but said "We need to receive this information in a more timely manner." Last week Vadney had expressed surprise that about the request, noting that commissioners and Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett had told the delegation until just recently that there were no pending transfer requests.

Shackett said the auditors had credited most of the first payroll checks of 2016 back to the 2015 and she had thought until recently that there were four pay periods left in the year 2016 when there were actually five. Last week the commissioners had asked for a $52,739 request and this week that had grown by over $32,000.

Vadney said that he was concerned over the new, higher number and asked "How did that happen overnight?"

Huot said that while it is important that the county get a handle on how to do its business "It's not the time on Dec. 20 to say you screwed up," and that making the transfer now and holding discussions early next year would be the best way to go. He said the committee should be concerned with two issues: whether the transfers were appropriate and whether there were funds to make the transfers.

The vote to reconsider the action and grant the transfer request was 5-2, with only Sylvia and Abear voting no.

The nearly two-hour long session began with the election of officers, with Sylvia elected as chairman, Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton) as vice chairman and Rep. Abear as clerk. Howard said he was uneasy with the budget transfer requests and why the budget is so far off from what was originally approved. He said that he did not think it was done ''legally or properly" while Sylvia, who said that he would not vote to approve the transfer of any funds to a line which had already been overspent, which he said is a violation of state law, questioned why he delegation hadn't been informed in July that another budget line was going to end the year needing a transfer.

He was referring to $6,131,166 Department of Health and Human Services line in the budget, which represents the amount paid to the state for Belknap County residents in private nursing homes. The commissioners requested a $47,385 transfer to pay the remainder of this year's bill. Shackett said she knew in July, when the state's fiscal year ends, that the county would likely see an increase but didn't know until recently how much revenue it would receive to offset the increase. That transfer was later approved.

Sylvia said he sees the problem of receiving timely information on transfers as a management issue and asked how management is addressing the problems with department heads in keeping track of the budget.

DeVoy pointed out that there were over 400 line items in the budget and that some of the department heads are elected officials, like the sheriff and register of deeds. "We're going to do our best to work with the new sheriff on his budget."

When considering the first budget transfer request, $600 for advertising to fill positions at the nursing home, Abear said he hadn't been given enough information on the past actions with regard to the $1,500 account to make a decision on the request. He said he wanted to know the history of previous transfers for the account and asked that such information be included with all transfer requests.

Huot noted that the delegation doesn't have the authority to "nitpick every expenditure" and said it is important to be able to advertise to fill nursing positions, noting that the county is competing with places like Grafton County, which provides $1,000 incentives for new nurses.

Vadney said that the action taken by County Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) in paying for two ads in The Laconia Daily Sun for nursing positions was questionable, maintaining that under state law the county can't spend private money without first having an appropriation from the delegation.

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