Many police stations, including the Laconia station, feature a permanent Prescription Collection Box for use by residents year round. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
Drug Take Back Day aims to put dent in exploding opioid problem
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Emergency responders in Laconia administered the anti-opioid medication Narcan 28 times in the past four months, including 11 times in April, as the opiate epidemic surged across Belknap County.
Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is used to counter the effects of opioid overdose.
From April 2016 to April 2017, 175 drug overdoses occurred in Laconia. In the same period a year earlier, 113 drug overdoses were recorded, a 55 percent increase, according to Laconia Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson.
The largest percent increase in the number of incidents involving Narcan between June and July 2016 was observed in Belknap County with a 280 percent increase, according to the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. In the county, the number of incidents involving Narcan included 13 in May 2016, five in June 2016 and 19 in July 2016, the agency reported. Statewide, the number of incidents involving Narcan included 233 in May 2016, 258 in June 2016 and 275 in July 2016, for a 7 percent increase in incidents between June and July.
"It's a roller coaster ride. It's the only way to describe it. It goes up and down," Erickson said. "It seems like we've seen an increase in the last couple of weeks. It definitely right now seems to be on an upward curve."
On Saturday, April 29, one of the countermeasures to combat the opiate epidemic will take place across New Hampshire. Police departments across the state will function as collection locations for Drug Take Back Day. Most police departments offer this free and confidential drug take-back program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Laconia Police Department, at 126 New Salem St., runs its take back program from 10 a.m. to noon.
Last October, Americans turned in 366 tons (over 730,000 pounds) of prescription drugs at almost 5,200 sites operated by the federal government and more than 4,000 of its state and local law enforcement partners, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"The majority of prescription drug abusers report that they obtain their drugs from friends and family, including from the home medicine cabinet," the DEA reported, so the Drug Take Back Day is considered one strategy to curb the opioid crisis. New Hampshire is the state hardest hit by the epidemic.
In 2016, 470 people died in New Hampshire from drugs, of which 414 deaths were caused by opiates/opioids, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
In 2017, as of April 10, 38 people had died in New Hampshire from drugs, of which 34 deaths were caused by opiates/opioids, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Local fire departments are feeling the brunt of these rampant overdoses.
"Recently, we had two providers who were attacked by a patient who was coming out of an overdose. It's getting bad," said Sanbornton Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dexter.
About a month ago, the pair of firefighter/EMTs tried to help a patient who was overdosing. They administered Narcan, and when the patient came around, she attacked and scratched the fire department personnel, Dexter said. "It took four of us to hold her down," he said.
Both emergency medical technicians were sent to the hospital for evaluation and to receive a blood screening, Dexter said.
Sanbornton reported two drug overdose incidents and one alcohol overdose incident this year.
"It's commonplace everywhere, it doesn't matter how affluent a community is," Dexter said.
In Laconia, Fire Chief Erickson said the department administered Narcan 27 times in 2013, but by 2016, that number had risen to 104 times, or an average of 8.6 times a month. So far this year, the city has seen Narcan administered 28 times, for an average of 6.2 times a month, he said.
"We've seen an uptick in overdoses," Erickson said.
The department hosted a Narcan giveaway in the past few years, and in recent cases, Narcan was administered by members of the public prior to emergency responders arriving at the scene of an overdose, Erickson said.
To confirm the escalating problem, Erickson reviewed a different set of data.
Last year at this time, the department had responded to 45 high-risk patients, a category which typically includes overdose victims, he said. This year by the same time, the department had responded to 85 high-risk patients, he said.
"We have seen a definite increase in what we call status 1 and status 2 patients," Erickson said. Status 1 means the patients are not breathing or barely breathing — again a description that includes overdose victims.
"My suspicion would be a significant number of them are related to overdoses," Erickson said. "A lot of that has to be related to the heroin problem."
State figures back up Erickson's concerns.
In the first five months of 2016, 1,079 cases of Narcan use occurred in New Hampshire, compared with 1,060 cases in the same period the previous year; and Belknap County accounted for 44 of the 1,079 cases documented in the first five months of 2016, according to the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services.
In Laconia, from June 2015 to May 2016, the state documented 57 cases of Narcan use, up from 45 cases in the same period a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. Statewide, from June 2015 to May 2016, the state documented 2,743 cases of Narcan use, up from 2,383 cases in the same period a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services.
Now, the state is coping with a new type of heroin-like drug, carfentanil.
On Wednesday, officials reported that an autopsy from a death in Meredith revealed carfentanil as the suspected culprit.
"We're telling our guys to start wearing masks on all overdose calls," Erickson said.
"It's so bad that if you as an emergency responder get it on yourself, you could have issues," he said.
Gilmanton posted a warning from the Drug Enforcement Administration about the substance (http://www.gilmantonnh.org/documents/fire/Carfentanil%20Alert%20Safety%20Information.pdf).
"Carfentanil is used as a tranquilizing agent for elephants and other large mammals. The lethal dose range for carfentanil in humans is unknown; however, carfentanil is approximately 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which can be lethal at the 2-milligram range, depending on route of administration and other factors. Remember that carfentanil can resemble powdered cocaine or heroin. If you suspect the presence of carfentanil or any synthetic opioid, do not take samples or otherwise disturb the substance, as this could lead to accidental exposure. Rather, secure the substance and follow approved transportation procedure."
Erickson said the situation is so serious that emergency responders may need to take Narcan themselves if an exposure to carfentanil is indicated.
"They're telling us to administer Narcan to our responders. That's a disconcerting, discomfiting thought," Erickson said.
Area departments participating in Drug Take Back Day include Belmont Police Department, 16 Fuller St.; Franklin Police Department, 5 Hancock Terrace; Gilford Police Department, 47 Cherry Valley Road; Laconia Police Department, 126 New Salem St.; Moultonborough Police Department, 1035 Whittier Highway; and Sanbornton Police Department, 565 Sanborn Road. Many police stations, including those in Gilford and Laconia, feature a permanent Prescription Collection Box for use by residents year round.
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