America is currently in the grip of an addiction crisis—the opioid epidemic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), over 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, more than the number of Americans killed during the entirety of the Vietnam War. While the devastating effects of opioid addiction have been well-publicized in recent years, many states continue to designate alcohol abuse as their priority.
Alcohol Abuse Still a Leading Problem
An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. behind tobacco and poor diet. According to a study published last year in JAMA Psychiatry, statistics indicate that nearly 30 million Americans struggle with some form of alcohol abuse or addiction. And while alcohol has long been a troubling public health issue in America, these statistics show the rise in opioid addiction has done little to diminish the widespread damaging effects of alcohol.
New Hampshire is one of the hardest hit states for opioid abuse, but a recent study found that alcohol continues to be the state’s primary substance abuse issue. Between 2014 and 2015, the Granite State saw some of the highest substance abuse rates in the country, particularly among its younger citizens. Following a study analyzing alcohol consumption over a 30-day period, New Hampshire ranked the highest, not only in the northeast, but throughout the country. Unfortunately, this high rate of alcohol abuse has spilled over to the roads. In 2016 alone, there were 136 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, a 21% jump from the previous year.
“We are often in the top five states when it comes to the highest rates of binge drinking and alcohol misuse,” says Kate Frey, Vice President of Advocacy for New Futures, a nonprofit promoting improved health and wellness for New Hampshire residents.
Link Between Alcohol and Opioid Abuse
States and public health organizations have new reasons to see and address alcohol abuse and the opioid crisis as part of the same problem. A literature review published the March 2018 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that alcohol and opioid abuse frequently go hand-in-hand. Moreover, abuse of both substances may increase the likelihood of overdosing and lower the likelihood of successful treatment outcomes.
A Safe Haven To Seek Help
The problems associated with substance abuse and alcohol addiction are nothing new, but New Hampshire is taking a unique approach to help those seeking sobriety. Safe Station, a two-year-old program that started in Manchester, establishes a designated safe environment—any city fire station—for addicts seeking treatment. Available day or night, the only thing required of an addict is to summon the courage to walk into a local station and simply ask for the help they need. From there, they surrender any drug paraphernalia, receive a medical assessment, and are then directed to an appropriate medical facility.
From 2016 to 2017, Manchester Fire Departments received over 1,500 requests from those seeking a path to recovery. The success of the Safe Station program model has spread to other cities in New Hampshire, including nearby Rhode Island. Addiction is a crisis that does not discriminate; it affects young and old, affluent and poor, neighbors and family members alike. Whether it’s opioids or alcohol, substance abuse continues to take a heavy toll, but connecting addicts with treatment services is a good step in combating the devastating effects of addiction.