Laura Byrne is the executive director of the HIV/HCV Resource Center in Lebanon. I spoke with her for a story I wrote for Globe New Hampshire today about efforts to use stories about addiction and recovery to help prevent overdose deaths.
She said the resource center where she works used to primarily focus on preventing HIV transmission, since that was the main cause of death among clients. Now it’s shifted to preventing overdose deaths.
Some context: New Hampshire ranked among the worst overdose death rates in the nation about a decade ago. Our ranking has come down considerably (we’re now in the middle of the pack), as death rates in other states have worsened more quickly. Our death rate declined for two years prior to COVID, but in the aftermath of the pandemic, it jumped 11 percent and approached a decade-high.
“Everybody knows somebody who has some kind of substance use disorder,” Byrne told me. And that’s why she thinks it’s important that everyone know how to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
The HIV/HCV Resource Center serves people in the Upper Valley, Byrne said. They offer a needle exchange and help connect people to social services, mental health services, and medication-assisted treatment programs.
The clientele are among the most marginalized in society: many of them don’t have a primary care physician and live below the poverty level. Only around half are employed.
Byrne said most of the people she sees are using fentanyl, which is very difficult to stop using. And, now, it’s increasingly cut with xylazine, an animal tranquilizer that can leave big harmful wounds.
But because of stigma, some people are hesitant to seek treatment. Byrne said one client had to have his thumb amputated because he didn’t seek treatment for a sore
But the biggest impediment to people getting better? It’s lack of affordable, accessible housing, according to Byrne.
“The glue that holds people together is stable housing,” she said.
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