HAMPTON — Leah Rothchild had good grades, a love for sports and a strong family who raised her to avoid any illicit drug use growing up in Stratham. Her parents shared but one drink a year during the holidays, she said.
Her “perfect” middle-class upbringing, she said, did not prevent her from experimenting with drugs during her rebellious teenage years to cope with her depression. What followed was a spiral into heroin addiction she says she was lucky to have survived.
“Substance use disorder is an equal opportunity destroyer,” said Rothchild at a May 9 recovery forum hosted by the Rotary Club. “Today I know that it is a disease.”
The forum held in the Winnacunnet High School auditorium was part of the Rotary Club’s “Recovery with Hope and Dignity” series on current efforts to combat New Hampshire’s addiction crisis, emphasizing the need to view addiction as a health problem.
It featured a panel of experts in recovery like Rothchild, now a recovery coach, as well as law enforcement, medical leaders and Jim and Jeannie Moser, who lost their son Adam to an opioid overdose in 2015. Gov. Chris Sununu appeared to speak at the series’ previous stop in Exeter.
Other panelists included Kennebunk Police Chief Bob MacKenzie, who spoke from the law enforcement perspective of the opioid crisis and how many crimes are committed to feed one’s addiction. He said it was important that jails offer treatment of some kind so people with addiction that are incarcerated are less likely to use as soon as they get out. Time in jail often leads to a lower tolerance, he said, making it likely users will overdose if they use the same amount of heroin they typically do when they are released.
State Rep. Tom Loughman, D-Hampton, talked about legislation he sponsored to require products containing opioids feature warning labels so people are aware they are being treated with addictive drugs. Peter Fifield, manager of substance use disorder services at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, said options for those seeking recovery have grown significantly in the last several years, pointing to the new hub and spoke model implemented through the Doorway-NH that directs people more easily to resources in the state.
John Burns, director of SOS Recovery Community Center, talked about the services his organization will bring to Hampton when it opens its new recovery center on Route 1. The recovery center will offer non-medical services like peer recovery coaching.
Burns shared his own story of struggling with drugs while growing up in Hampton and recalled moving to Washington, D.C., where he lived on the streets. He said one of the most important goals of the recovery movement is to help remove the stigma that has prevented people with addiction from finding help. He also gave a demonstration on how to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan.
“One of the biggest reasons why people don’t access treatment in the community is because of stigma,” said Burns, who discouraged the use of derogatory labels to describe people with addiction. “We tend to look at them as the lepers of society for having a health condition.”