NH towns, cities see heroin spikes
NASHUA — With about 40 heroin overdoses in the Gate City so far this year — the most recent one this week — Police Chief John Seusing said the increase in drug-related problems is overwhelming.
Pleading with city officials for money to hire four more police officers, Seusing said the city is on track to triple the number of heroin overdoses in 2014 over last year.
“That is pretty alarming,” said the chief. “This heroin addiction is so severe — this is all they care about. They are married to that drug.”
At a round table discussion last month in Derry, members of the law enforcement community from across the state talked about the startling increase in heroin overdoses and deaths.
From 2008 to 2013, Hillsborough County saw the highest number of heroin-related deaths, 86. Merrimack County reported seven deaths in 2013, as did Cheshire County. Strafford County had six deaths; Grafton County had four in 2013.
This week, Nashua police found a 48-year-old woman dead from a heroin overdose, according to Seusing, who said a needle was still in her arm when authorities arrived.
“I need your assistance,” he told the aldermanic Budget Review Committee on Wednesday.
Seusing proposes adding three more patrolmen, three extra drug unit officers and one additional member to the Problem Oriented Policing unit.
He only has to get authorization to hire four patrolmen.
The other positions would be staffed by converting three positions filled by police officers to civilian posts and reassigning those officers.
In 2012, there were 30 heroin overdoses in Nashua. In 2013, that number increased to 48. With about 40 heroin overdoses so far this year, Seusing says the problem is getting out of hand.
Drug problems are the catalyst to many crimes in the city, according to police officials.
Seusing said his request to increase the department’s authorized strength is a “bare bones recommendation” that will be a step in the right direction to make a dent in the drug issue over time, which police hope will reduce some of the crime.
Other communities in New Hampshire are also struggling to cope with heroin problems, including Merrimack.
On Monday, Merrimack police responded to a local Mobil station where a woman was found unconscious in the public bathroom with a needle next to her on the floor, according to Chief Mark Doyle.
“We have seen a huge uptick of heroin-related overdoses,” said Doyle.
In the last calendar year, police have responded to about 12 or 13 heroin-related overdoses, which he said is about 100 to 150 percent more than the prior year.
“Those numbers may seem small, but they are significant in Merrimack,” the chiefs said.
The heroin epidemic is not only a New Hampshire problem, but really a New England problem, according to Doyle, who said communities cannot arrest their way out of it.
“Your heroin addict isn’t your typical junkie anymore. These people are going to work and moms taking care of kids that are addicted to pain meds and when that isn’t available, they realize they can get a fix on heroin,” he said.
In addition, heroin is readily available and cheap, Doyle said.
In Salem, there have been an estimated 19 or 20 heroin overdoses so far this year, according to Capt. James Chase of the Salem Police Department.
“We are on pace to really kill our numbers from previous years,” said Chase. “We are definitely seeing it big. It is almost an epidemic here at this point. We are getting called weekly.”
Seusing said the issue in Nashua is not going away.
“It is a big problem, and the police department itself cannot fix it all,” he told aldermen.
On April 17, Portsmouth police seized approximately $1,000 worth of heroin and made two arrests.
“Portsmouth Police have seen a significant uptick in heroin and crimes related to it over the past year,” police said in a posting on the department’s Facebook page. “A contributing factor has been the low street price of the drug when compared with the street price of its pharmaceutical counterparts.”