Stopping the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic

“I talk to Abi Lizotte every few weeks. For a long time, the young mother was my constituent in New Hampshire – and one of many Granite Staters struggling with heroin and opioid abuse.

“Our state’s rate of per-capita overdose deaths ranks third in the country, behind West Virginia and New Mexico. We lost more than 430 Granite Staters last year. That’s one out of every 3,000 people in our small state, which puts us at the center of a nationwide drug epidemic.

“Abi is one of the fortunate ones. As she tells students at high schools across New England, when she warns them about the dangers of drugs, she had hit rock bottom, often the last place addicts stop before they either seek treatment or die.

“That’s the decision Abi, pregnant at the time, was facing: Get help or lose her life and that of her unborn baby.

“Eight months pregnant, she was living on the street sleeping on a park bench. She was sick and desperate, like her sister before her, who died of the same affliction. But Abi knew someone, a nurse and treatment specialist named Kerry Norton.

“Crossing a professional boundary she had drawn, because so many Granite Staters need her help, Kerry had once offered Abi her cell phone number. The two had formed a personal connection when Abi sought care at a Dover prenatal clinic.

“That simple gesture of friendship probably saved Abi’s life.

“And probably the lives of many others in New Hampshire suffering from heroin and opioid addiction. Because it was Abi who inspired Kerry to co-found, with Dr. Colene Arnold, Hope on Haven Hill in Rochester.

“The new treatment and recovery center will open soon, partly alleviating New Hampshire’s shortage of beds and another unfortunate trend across the country – thousands of newborns suffering from painful withdrawal symptoms, or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

“Kerry and Colene are just two examples of Granite State heroes, helping their communities to address a widening crisis. Two more are Melissa Crews and Dick Anagnost, working with Hope for New Hampshire Recovery to create yet another treatment and recovery center in Manchester.

“In fact, there are thousands of people like Abi and Melissa, many in long-term recovery like them, providing essential services to the growing numbers of kids and adults in the throes of addiction, often involving heroin or prescription opioids.

“Most heroin abusers begin their habits with prescription opioid medication. Most heroin deaths involve fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic substitute. This is just some of the troubling information I have gathered, as Chairman of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, including more than 80 Republican and Democrat Members in Congress.

“A bill I introduced last week would direct more resources to long-term recovery providers, such as Hope on Haven Hill. A second would create a study of civil liability laws that prevent first responders from administering emergency treatment, such as life-saving Narcan.

“Last week the House of Representatives also passed the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act, containing important elements of my STOP ABUSE Act, such as flexible state and local grant programs. A new inter-agency task force would coordinate efforts at every level of government to control opioid over-prescription.

“Last week was hardly the end of our efforts in Congress or New Hampshire, where the Task Force held its latest field hearing with law enforcement and public health officials. Police officers from around New England described the reach of Mexican cartels, responsible for nearly 100 percent of the heroin and fentanyl in the U.S.

“Several of last week’s bills target major drug traffickers and synthetic fentanyl. However, to help more people like Abi avoid addiction, we must strengthen interdiction efforts, in addition to prevention, treatment and recovery programs. Perhaps then, Abi’s young son Parker will be studying U.S. history, instead of emergency CPR, as students in New Hampshire do today.”

-Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH)