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Family fentanyl tragedy underlines the ‘mind-boggling’ opioid crisis in New Hampshire

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NH leads nation in an overdose of deadly drug Fentanyl

New Hampshire leads nation in an overdose of deadly drug Fentanyl.

PLAISTOW, N. H. – On an autumn afternoon in 2014, Jim Zanfagna got a phone call from his son-in-law, warn him for a series of alarming messages that are popping up on Facebook.

His 25-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, had died, and his friends were posting condolence messages before the Zanfagnas ever heard of the government.

“Social media taught before we did,” Zanfagna said, as he fought back tears in his Plaistow, N. H., home.

The cause of death was an accidental overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is killing more people in New Hampshire than in any other state.

Fentanyl is lethal to two milligrams – akin to a few grains of salt to create the risk of a fatal overdose is high. While the drug is often used by hospitals, it is also illegal in China and imported into the U.S. by the Mexican drug cartels.

“Fentanyl is very powerful and is mainly intended for use in anesthesia and postoperative pain management,” said Dr. William Goodman, medical director of the Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.

“One thing that makes the abuse of drugs is so dangerous, that the quality control is very bad,” Goodman told Fox News. “Can you get a piece of the white stuff with a lot of fentanyl and it takes very little to kill you.”

For Jim Zanfagna, problems began shortly after his wife, Anne Marie, was prescribed Vicodin – a commonly used narcotic drug to relieve her debilitating pain in the knee. One day, Zanfagna said she saw an empty supply of pills and confronted her daughter about it.

“I would always ask Jackie and she would say, ‘No,'” Zanfagna said.

It wasn’t long, it was clear to the family that their daughter was addicted to the painkillers.

“I loved her from leaving the house with a bottle – a large bottle. And they said, “You’re choking me’ and I think I was, but I couldn’t let her take it,” Zanfagna called.

Jacqueline Zanfagna is the use of the drug would later track the progress of the prescribed opiates heroin. So strong was her addiction that the young woman would often steal her mother’s jewelry and sell it at a nearby pawn shop to get money, according to her family.

Zanfagna’s story is a sad display of the nation’s opioid crisis – an epidemic that does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, income, or location.

“We know that the people the use of drugs – illegal opiates – four of the five began with prescription pills,” says Goodman. “She had them prescribed directly, or use them diverted pills. And often what leads them to go from pills to injection of fentanyl or heroin is that it’s easier to get. You do not need a prescription and it is often much less expensive.”

“In the 1960s, most people abuse heroin started with heroin – no pills,” Goodman said. “That has now changed. First-time users start with pills, then go to heroin, in contrast to the past, when they started injecting drugs.”

In 2016, there were more than 20,000 deaths in the US related to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The three states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose are West Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire.

Daniel Goonan, the Manchester city fire chief, said firefighters routinely carry Narcan — a life-saving anti-overdose drug that also goes by the generic name of naloxone — if you respond at the scene of an overdose. It only takes a small amount of fentanyl or derivatives thereof, which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes, to result in an overdose, making it dangerous for anyone who comes across it, including first responders.

“We have no heroin problem in New Hampshire. We have a fentanyl problem. It is almost all fentanyl,” Goonan said. “I don’t know how to describe the death that we see here as a community. It is mind-boggling.”

After the death of her youngest daughter, Anne Marie Zanfagna, a talented artist, channeled her grief by painting the faces of the opioid crisis – the 120 victims-to-date from all corners of the country.

“The first portrait I painted was Jackie,” Zanfagna said she was sitting in front of an easel in the art studio of her home. “I have two months to paint. It was spending time with her. There was joy and there was sorrow.”

After the show of the colorful oil painting of her daughter to a support group, Zanfagna said they received requests from other families. They soon began a non-profit called “the Angels of Addictions,” to make portraits for people who have lost loved ones to opioid drugs.

“The families are amazed by them. They feel that their son or daughter is not forgotten,” she said. “And when you see the portraits all together, it is very powerful. It shows you that this is a tragedy that can happen to anyone.”

Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.

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