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N.H. leaders say addiction is driving crime

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s law enforcement and corrections officials agree that an ‘‘epidemic of addiction’’ is driving crime in the state while taxing corrections and court resources.

Public Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes told fellow members of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol Abuse, Prevention, Intervention and Treatment Friday that 40 percent of the state’s highway fatalities are linked to drug or alcohol abuse. He said he has 124 troopers specially trained to detect drug impairment.

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The commission met for the first time since three people died of heroin overdoses and a number of users were hospitalized. At least 61 people died of heroin overdoses in New Hampshire in 2013, compared with 38 the year before, according to figures from the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

‘‘The epidemic of addiction we have is driving most of the crime issues we have in this state,’’ Barthelmes said.

Many officials said more funding is sorely needed for training, treatment, and inmate reentry programs to begin to curb addiction.

Circuit Court Judge Edward Gordon said running a drug court costs up to $12,000 a person and involves about 115 participants who are drug tested three to four times a week and must attend group support sessions every day. ‘‘It’s terribly resource-intensive,’’ Gordon said. ‘‘The biggest factor is testing.’’

In addition, he said, drug abuse is often a factor in the judicial system’s 1,000 child abuse and neglect cases and 15,000 divorce petitions yearly.

Some counties have drug diversion programs, while others do not, said Corrections Commissioner Bill Wrenn. ‘‘It’s a fragmented system. In some counties, you have options. In others, it’s prison versus jail.’’

Wrenn said about 85 percent of the state’s prison population is behind bars because of substance-abuse problems, often compounded by a lack of education or mental illness.

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