LACONIA — U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte joined some two dozen medical practitioners, social service providers, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians at Lakes Region General Hospital yesterday to address the ongoing scourge of opiate abuse.
"I'm here to listen and I'm here to learn," said Ayotte, adding that she has sponsored and supported a number of bills dealing with different aspects of the substance abuse crisis as well as taken steps to strengthen initiatives to prevent and treat addiction and curb trafficking in narcotics.
Marge Kerns, vice-president of clinical services at LRGHealthcare, reported that so far this year the emergency rooms at Lakes Regional General Hospital and Franklin Regional Hospital have treated 71 patients for overdoes of heroin, fentanyl and other narcotics. "We will probably break 100 this year," she said, which would be double the number in 2014 and four times the number in 2013.
"We can't arrest our way out of this problem," Ayotte said. "It is a public health epidemic throughout the state."
One after another stressed that narcotic addiction is a disease that requires a regimen of treatment and program of recovery. And none challenged Dr. Fred Jones of the Emergency Department at Lakes Region Genera Hospital, who recalled responding to six overdoses on a single shift in May, when he remarked there is nowhere to send people for acute withdrawal for long-term treatment."
Dr. Paul Racicot, an emergency physician at LRGH who is experienced in treating substance abuse, said the capacity to offer medically assisted treatment, using drugs like suboxone, is especially limited. Few physicians provide it and they are restricted to the number of patients they can treat. He noted that medically assisted treatment is proving more and more successful and capacity to provide should be expanded.
Margaret Franckauser of the Central New Hampshire Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice, said that insurance carriers raise obstacles to treatment, primarily by requiring prior authorization for treatment when, in case of substance abuse, a long-term commitment by the patient is required.
Apart from treatment, several speakers emphasized the importance of prevention and early intervention. Franckhauser, together with Chris Santaniello of Lakes Region Community Services, noted that their personnel are in homes throughout the region and well placed to warn of the dangers of substance abuse as well as to detect indications of it. "We should take advantage of every possible touch point," Franckhauser said.
Henry Lipman, a senior vice-president at LRGHealthcare and Laconia city councilor, said that while law enforcement, emergency services and non-profit organizations, along with individual volunteers, are addressing the problem "it is time to leverage these efforts with more public funding."
City Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) lamented that "a cloud has come over Laconia" and called for more opportunities for treatment. "A lot of this comes down to money," he said.
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