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Ann K.
Democrat NH 2

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  • Faces of Addiction

    by Representative Ann M. Kuster

    Posted on 2016-01-06

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    KUSTER. Mr. Speaker, this evening I rise as the co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic to call upon my colleagues to refocus our efforts on bringing an end to the opioid epidemic that continues to threaten communities all across New Hampshire and across this country.

    The opioid epidemic has grown to historic proportions. Our medical providers are struggling to keep up with the flow of overdoses entering our clinics and to secure treatment for those who need it.

    Our law enforcement, as first responders, have taken on the burden of responding to more and more potentially dangerous situations when a call for help comes in, and these calls are becoming more and more frequent. Statistics now show that more Americans die from drug overdoses than do in car crashes in this country.

    In my home State of New Hampshire, the opioid epidemic continues to grow. In 2015 alone, the total number of drug deaths in the Granite State exceeded 400, more than one per day, far surpassing the current record of fatalities set just last year at 324.

    There is no doubt that these numbers are staggering. But behind each and every one of these numbers is a daughter or a son, a mother or a father, a community leader or a neighbor whose life was precious and whose death has inflicted terrible pain on loved ones.

    For every life lost, there are also many more individuals and families whose lives have been forever changed by opioid misuse. We must never forget or overlook what each number represents.

    As the epidemic has continued to infiltrate communities across New Hampshire and New England, experts and advocates have risen to challenge opioid abuse in a number of important ways and sometimes from unexpected places.

    My dear friend Kriss and I have known each other for years now, and she has taken it upon herself to be a champion of this issue. Through her unique position as a premier cosmetologist in the State and the make-up artist of choice for many of the Presidential candidates that pass through New Hampshire during primary season, Kriss has forced a conversation about the need to end the opioid epidemic onto the national stage.

    Kriss has emerged as a leader on the issue back home, and she and her husband, Mark, continue to display remarkable courage and strength as she shares the story of her stepdaughter, Amber, who is with me here today in this Chamber, who lost her life to a heroin overdose.

    Kriss' hope is that her experience might help and enact real change. So with Kriss' and Mark's blessing tonight, it is my honor to share Amber's story with you.

    As Kriss puts it, Amber was the girl who helped everyone else. But, tragically, she could not help herself once she took that first drug at the young age of 15.

    As Amber's stepmother, Kriss came into her life when she turned 17. At that point, Amber had already passed through the gateway drugs of over-the-counter Benadryl, marijuana, alcohol, and prescription opiates that were available on the streets.

    {time} 2030 She suffered from untreated bipolar disorder, but she did not have access to the appropriate medication and, like so many others, was left uncomfortable in her own skin, self-prescribing medication to find relief.

    In Kriss' words, Amber was a girl hard to catch. She chose ``life on the run.'' When she found herself living on the streets, she would help others by giving them the coat off her back, panhandling to buy food, or helping others as they detoxed from heroin while homeless.

    By age 20, she took her first hit of heroin and became spellbound by it. It made choices for her. She had the opportunity to have a loving home, an education, and parents that could support her recovery, but her addiction led her to a life of homelessness on the streets of Manchester, New Hampshire.

    After four incarcerations in the last 2 years of her life for heroin possession and prostitution, she was a victim of trafficking on the streets of Manchester to maintain her high.

    When incarcerated and craving treatment, a bed finally became available for Amber at a wonderful treatment center in New Hampshire, but, meanwhile, the prison would not let her out. The prison itself offered no recovery. When she was released, the bed was no longer available. Amber even had to lie to the emergency room to get help by saying, ``I want to kill myself.'' She detoxed in that hospital, but no recovery aftercare was available. Kriss and her husband, Mark, brought Amber home, and on the third night, she fled home leaving them a note that said, ``I have to go back to my people.'' The last time that Kriss and Mark saw her was Easter Sunday. She was high, vacant, and the drug had consumed her soul. Three days later she was found in an alley dead of a heroin overdose. She was 22 years old.

    Her death would be easy to blame on institutional failure to ensure that those in need can access resources or on a general lack of empathy for individuals crippled by addiction. Kriss and Mark have made a conscious effort to use Amber's life, her death, and her ongoing vibrant spirit to wake up the hearts and minds of those who have the power to change fate.

    Tonight, I share Amber's heart-wrenching story in the hopes that we can all recognize opioid abuse is not a disease singular to a certain socioeconomic group or race or region. It can take hold of anyone.

    Amber's parents have been incredibly brave to share her story and to come to Washington to push for reform. We need to erase the stigma from substance abuse disorder, and we need to be far more honest and productive considering the effect on daughters or sons, mothers or fathers.

    That is why tonight we called our colleagues together for this Special Order so that we can speak from both sides of the aisle and share the lives of friends and loved ones. It is my intention that by honoring those we have lost and by acknowledging the complexities of opioid abuse and the human lives that are behind these fatalities, we can come together to convey the urgency behind bringing an end to the opioid epidemic.

    I yield to the gentleman from New Hampshire (Mr. Guinta).

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