When President Trump took the stage in New Hampshire on Monday and delivered a fiery speech about how the White House plans to tackle the nationwide opioid problem, he leaned heavily on the idea that the Massachusetts city of Lawrence was largely to blame for the scourge of addiction in the Granite State.
Citing a 2017 study by researchers at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, the president said the “sanctuary city” of Lawrence, a community that restricts its cooperation with federal immigration officials, is one of “the primary sources of fentanyl in six New Hampshire counties.”
Trump used that factoid during his speech in Manchester — in a state he once referred to as a “drug-infested den” — as an opportunity to call for the death penalty for drug traffickers. He also reiterated his stance on keeping so-called sanctuary cities like Lawrence and Boston from receiving federal funding, a move he claimed is “crucial to stopping the drug addiction crisis.”
But according to researchers who conducted the Dartmouth study, the high overdose rates in New Hampshire are due to a combination of several factors other than where the lethal drugs come from, as highlighted by Trump. (Also worth mentioning: Mexico provides the US with more than 90 percent of its heroin, according to the Washington Post.)
Below are some other key aspects that the report, titled “Understanding Opioid Overdoses in New Hampshire,” says contribute to the opioid issues:
Drug problems in New Hampshire are nothing new
According to a summary of the study, the Granite State has “consistently” and “historically” been in the top 10 in the country when it comes to high overall drug use, with the rates at which opioids are prescribed surpassing the national average.
Lisa Marsch, director of Dartmouth’s Center for Technology and Behavioral Health, which helped lead the study, said “recent history of prescribing includes not only long-acting, extended-release opioid prescriptions at higher rates than the national average, but higher\dose opioid prescriptions flooded the market ,thereby contributing to demand.”
When it comes to prevention and treatment programs, New Hampshire is lacking
At the time the study was published, researchers said New Hampshire had limited resources to “effectively mitigate” the risk of addiction. Some people who contributed to the study admitted that they gave up trying to find help because there were either too many roadblocks or help was inaccessible, going as far as saying that it was “impossible” to get into a treatment program.
“When it comes to treatment, New Hampshire has the lowest per-capita spending for drug treatment in New England and the second-lowest in the nation,” according to highlights from the report. “Low rates of Suboxone . . . prescribers per capita, an absence of needle-exchange programs, significant barriers to accessing Narcan, and, according to some respondents, the state’s rural setting, all contribute to the escalating problem.”
Lawrence wasn’t the only city on the list
While respondents commonly cited Lawrence as one of the sources of opioids — one person was quoted as saying “Lawrence seems like it’s one of the capitals for distributing heroin” — many other communities were mentioned by opioid consumers, including Lowell, Haverhill, Boston, and parts of New York and Connecticut, the report said.
First responders who participated in the study went further, adding Springfield, Holyoke, Methuen, and Springfield, Vt., when asked about trafficking and the supply chain.
There’s not a lot to do in parts of the state
New Hampshire’s “unique rural setting” was mentioned in the report as a possible reason for the opioid problem.
“This could give way to increased boredom among residents and contribute to seeking mood-altering states,” researchers said. “Self-sufficiency and individualism are core values of rural New Hampshire that may reduce help-seeking behaviors among those experiencing problematic opioid use.”