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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Politicians, police officers and anti-drug advocates said Friday that New Hampshire's growing heroin and opioid addiction is a social, economic and family problem that requires collaborative prevention and treatment efforts.
"I think together we can beat this," said Col. Robert Quinn of the New Hampshire State Police.
State officials and community advocates gathered in Bedford as part of a series by the New Hampshire Forum on the Future focused on tackling the state's growing abuse of heroin and prescription drugs. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of heroin-related deaths in New Hampshire spiked 40 percent and fentanyl-related deaths jumped 650 percent, Quinn said. More than 300 people died from drug overdoses in 2014, and Quinn said 2015 numbers are likely to top that.
Economist Brian Gottlob said drug addiction is an economic issue, as well. New Hampshire's workforce is growing at a slower rate than the national average, and addiction leads to a decrease in productivity, he said. Studies estimate that drug addiction is costing the state more than $2 billion in lost productivity, treatment, jail time and a number of other factors, Gottlob said.
Gov. Maggie Hassan included money in her budget proposal to expand substance abuse treatment for Medicaid patients, but it was removed from the House's version of the budget. The Senate could put it back in. People enrolled in Medicaid through the state's version of Medicaid expansion have addiction treatment benefits, but people on traditional Medicaid do not.
"We're going to keep sitting and talking about these issues until we realize that it's going to take money," said Cheryl Wilkie, senior vice president at the Farnum Center, a treatment facility in Manchester.
Outside of the budget, lawmakers are taking actions this year aimed at curbing drug use. A bill expanding access to naloxone, the drug used to treat heroin overdoses, is headed to Hassan's desk. Both chambers have also passed a bill that restricts the sale and possession of synthetic drugs, which prompted Hassan to declare a state of emergency last summer.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who also spoke at the event, is sponsoring several pieces of legislation at the national level aimed at stopping drug addiction. She urged the crowd to consider the families ripped apart by drug addiction and said tackling the problem requires people to challenge their own biases about addicts.
"We've got to reduce the stigma," she said.