Heroin has come out of the closet. Once thought confined to urban users shooting up in back alleys, there is hardly a city, suburb or quiet rural enclave in New Hampshire that hasn't been touched by the opiate's addictive lure, law enforcers say,
The effect has been devastating not only for addicts who face ruined lives, health risks and potentially deadly overdoses, but also for non-users who have become unwitting victims of armed hold-ups, burglaries, car thefts and other crimes that provide the quick cash that fuel habits.
"It's permeated New Hampshire from the smallest communities to the largest, and it is here with a vengeance," said Patrick Sullivan, executive director of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and interim Goffstown police chief.
Police and prosecutors say it's time to push back. And, they add, the only effective way to tackle such a pervasive, statewide problem is with equally broad-based solutions.
"It's affecting everybody. It's a problem that has to be hit in a variety of ways," New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph A. Foster said.
New Hampshire State Police Col. Robert L. Quinn already has been inviting stakeholders from across state government to "informational sessions" he has been hosting for the last month. They include dozens of police chiefs, county sheriffs, and representatives from the state departments of corrections and human services.
"We're all seeing some common problems. Now what are the solutions?" said Quinn.
"It's not just an enforcement issue. We all agree crime is up, but there are a lot of different areas impacted by this," he added, noting it is helpful to hear representatives from corrections and health and human services provide their perspectives.
Foster said he intends to launch a public information heroin prevention campaign. He said he also wants to coordinate a cross-disciplinary approach to tackling the problem of heroin use and addiction.
"It's very much in the infancy stage. There is a need to probably coordinate across different departments across state government and locally, as well," he said.
Local and state police, county sheriffs and prosecutors obviously would be at the table since they are on the front lines of enforcement and prosecution, Foster said.
But so would the medical community, which handles mental health and substance abuse treatment, he added. Education and prevention also would be priorities, he said.
"Can you prevent heroin use? Regrettably, that is not something that is possible. But to simply do nothing is not effective either. Any inroads we can make to curtail it is important, and that means treatment, prosecution, education and incarceration," said Assistant Attorney General James Vara, who specializes in drug prosecutions.