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NH Suicide-Prevention Advocates Step Up in Opioid Crisis

New Hampshire leads the nation in overdose deaths per capita from the opioid known as fentanyl. (stubs.org)
New Hampshire leads the nation in overdose deaths per capita from the opioid known as fentanyl. (stubs.org)
February 28, 2018

CONCORD, N.H. — More than 142,000 Americans had so-called "despair deaths" in 2016 - meaning from drugs, alcohol or suicide. But prevention specialists continue making inroads with families and communities to spot the warning signs and offer resources.

In New Hampshire, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) now includes the number of violent deaths in its annual report documenting suicides in the state.

Patrick Roberts, coordinator of program evaluation and improvement with NAMI-New Hampshire, says that kind of data helps them understand what was going on in the state overall when people took their own lives.

"So, some of the things that we always have thought might be the case is that things like financial trouble, job stress - like loss of employment or unemployment - relationship issues are contributing to suicide deaths, but we never had data to back it up," he explains. "Up until now."

Last year, New Hampshire's governor allowed the state to contract with private hospitals and nonprofit facilities for more beds to admit people with psychiatric disorders that can lead to suicide. Roberts says the wait-list started around 2012 due to budget cuts, and when private hospitals closed psychiatric units related to workforce shortages.

Roberts says in New Hampshire today, there's a whole new group of people at risk for suicide. The state leads the nation in overdose deaths per capita from the opioid known as fentanyl.

"One area that's not strictly suicide-related but that we have been seeing over time is an increase in the number of overdose deaths," he says. "There are many challenges in the state now related to opiates, and that spills over somewhat into the suicide realm because it's not always known whether it was an overdose death or a suicide death."

He adds that NAMI offers training to health facilities, law enforcement officers and schools on how to address and work with someone who may be suffering or in crisis.

Despite the challenges of a struggling economy - including budget cuts and reduced access to mental-health and substance-use treatment - Roberts says the annual report shows progress in suicide prevention work, in many diverse ways.

"I think everyone in the state who works in suicide prevention would agree that even one death is too many," Roberts notes. "So, being able to see areas where we may be able to prevent further deaths, that's really our hope with this."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline offers free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources and best practices for professionals.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NH