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LITTLETON — Through a partnership with RALI NH (the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative), the North Country Serenity Center and Littleton Police Department now offer drug disposal pouches to the public at no charge.
The Deterra bags are designed to combat the opioid crisis by deactivating unused or expired prescription medications and preventing them from hitting the illegal market. When the drugs are combined with water, sealed and
shaken in the bags, the active compounds are permanently destroyed. While the system is ideal for pills, liquids, creams, films and patches, it is ineffective with vials or syringes.
As an added measure, Littleton's police officers would deliver Deterra bags to residents' homes, said Chief Paul Smith. According to RALI representatives, it is the only department in the state to offer such a service.
Before COVID changed the landscape, the opioid crisis was at the forefront of countless local and regional conversations. While the pandemic may have taken the spotlight, Chief Smith said substance use problems remained high in the North Country, with fentanyl use overshadowing heroin.
Fentanyl also proves to be a severe danger for first responders, as direct transmission can occur through direct skin-to-skin contact and put the responders' lives on the line. Chief Smith said the drug had utterly changed how his department handled drug or overdose situations.
To respond more effectively to substance use situations, the police department added a full-time recovery coach to their force and mounted drug disposal boxes outside the station. RALI representatives estimated that several hundred Deterra
bags were available through the two local resources.
"The bigger issue is the lack of mental health resources for people in the area, and it was an even bigger issue during the holidays. Although we are fortunate and have a lot of training in NH, the availability to do a warm hand off to another resource is limited for us here," stated the Chief.
Smith continued, "There just aren't enough people out there to identify when a situation is more of a mental health issue than a drug issue. Household trauma is
off the charts right now compared to before the pandemic. It's attributed directly to mental health and the drug epidemic."
Chief Smith also noted that homicide rates were on the rise, as well as drug use among people with co-occurring mental health disorders.
He said, "The statistics we see in the mental health courts parallel what we see in the drug court system as well."
"A lot of people are committing crimes and going to jail. When you get into their abusive behaviors in the household against others, it's just a big cycle," added
David Mara, the Governor's Advisor on Addiction and Behavioral Health, noted that the number of overdoses decreased statewide last year. He attributed the decline to the increased availability of Narcan and anticipated even lower fatality
numbers in 2021.
Mara stated, "The state has done an excellent job of getting Narcan into the hands of people that need help. I think it's had a critical impact on the number of overdose deaths that we've had."
"We support this drug take back initiative because it's really important. It brings
awareness about the safe disposal of unused prescription drugs and gets the disposal bags out to people. It's a critical piece of the overall strategy to eliminate addiction, which is our goal," said Mara.
"It prevents other people from getting addicted. A lot of people start using prescription drugs, then move on to prescription opiates and other drugs. I used to say it was heroin, but that's been replaced by fentanyl," added the state official.
Mara also echoed Chief Smith's observations on mental health issues.
He said, "What we worry about during the pandemic, is that more people are suffering from addiction and more people are isolated. They're not going to be prone to have any support system in place, be it family members or treatment
and recovery services. We're also nervous about the effect the pandemic will have on people with mental health issues."
"There is a substantial percentage of people that have substance use disorders. They also have co-occurring mental illnesses. It becomes difficult because you have to treat them separately. People need mental health services, along with being treated for addiction," he explained.
To dispose of unused or expired prescriptions using the Deterra system, please contact the North Country Serenity Center at 444-1300 or the Littleton Police Department at 444-7711 during regular business hours.