CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire's law enforcement and corrections officials agree an "epidemic of addiction" is driving crime in the state while taxing corrections and court resources.
Public Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes on Friday told fellow members of the Governor's Commission on Alcohol Abuse, Prevention, Intervention and Treatment 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.
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 previous year, according to 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 re-entry 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.
Corrections Commissioner Bill Wrenn said some counties have drug diversion programs while others don't.
"It's a fragmented system," Wrenn said. "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.
Wrenn said programs to help convicts re-enter society and avoid the people and pitfalls that led to their incarceration are critically needed. In many cases, he said, leaving prison is like "walking off a cliff — whatever's done in there is undone."
Manchester Police Chief David Mara said last month that the relatively cheap price of heroin — a small fraction of the price of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone — is driving demand.
The commission scheduled a strategy session for Wednesday.