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Rx Drug Abuse Report for New Hampshire

Findings released from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) show that prescription drug abuse, primarily opiates, among 18 to 25-year-olds in the state is above the national average. The pain relieving drugs are both addictive and preferentially sought out by young people. The report, titled “Prescription Pain Medication Misuse” says that one in eight young adults reported abusing pain relievers in the past year in 2011, and the situation hasn’t improved much, although the numbers have fallen since a high in 2010.

Drug related deaths are down, but according to another national survey, New Hampshire is 26th in the US for mortality from prescription drugs (on a per capita basis). In that study, we score 5 out of 10 for factors thought to keep prescription drug abuse under control. These recommendations include tracking prescriptions, mandating ID checks when dispensing controlled substances, training medical personnel on spotting abuse, and other interventions.

One serious concern is the movement from prescription pain medications to more powerful street drugs. “The 2012 data appears a little better, but we don’t have enough information to determine if the changes indicate a clear and positive change in the trend,” said Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services Director Joe Harding. “Unfortunately, we are seeing some individuals dependent on prescription pain medication (opioids) switching to heroin as a cheaper and more available substitute.”

It’s a devil’s choice. By increasing attention to prescription opioids, we may be pushing some people toward heroin, which gives a stronger high and has a higher addiction potential than pain pills taken by mouth.

The amount of opiates used in this population has led to another disturbing trend: infants born with dependence on narcotics. There has been a rising number of babies born in New Hampshire with symptoms of withdrawal from opioids used by the mother while pregnant. Recent data of hospital discharges show a steady rise in the number of newborns being diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS. Just after birth, these babies exhibit symptoms of irritability, feeding difficulty, respiratory problems, and seizures and require intensive and costly care for several weeks after birth.

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