NORTHFIELD — The keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health told a gathering of some 125 people at the Merrimack Valley Railroad freight station Thursday morning that the Lakes Region has ''a drug and alcohol epidemic'' which is contributing to an increase in poverty and crime in the area.
Linda Paquette, executive director of the New Futures organization, which works to prevent and reduce alcohol and drug problems in New Hampshire, said that the problem is made worse by the lack of access to treatment programs for those in need.
''Only Texas is worse in terms of access to treatment,'' said Paquette who said that it is estimated that one on 10 people in Belknap County, some 6,567 people are in need of substance abuse treatment.
Paquette said that 64 percent of the people admitted to the N.H. State Hospital in the first six months of 2013 had a history of substance abuse but there is no substance abuse treatment at the facility and no Medicaid substance abuse benefit.
She said recent surveys of drug and alcohol use in the county show that it has higher rates than the rest of the state and that the problems have huge impacts on public safety, the criminal justice and health care systems and the economy.
Paquette noted that 70 percent of people admitted to prison have significant addition disorders and that 90 percent of those offenders returned to prison have drug or alcohol problems.
She said parolees and those on probation are mostly uninsured and must wait for an indigent care opening into a program, which often is longer than six weeks, and that most care provided in those situations is uncompensated, which keeps providers from meeting the demand for services.
Paquette said that increasing access to treatment is a major priority, which full funding of the state's Alcohol Fund and expanding Medicaid coverage would help accomplish.
She singled out State Senator Jeanie Forrester of Meredith for having raised awareness among her colleagues of the Alcohol Fund, which is supposed to be paid for by a tax on alcohol sales but has never been fully funded.
Paquette said that strong leadership and a focused community response which includes public-private collaboration are needed to bring the alcohol abuse problem under control. She said a recent study by economist Brian Gottlob estimated the economic impact of excessive alcohol consumption is $1.15 billion a year.
The organization presented its first annual Public Health Champion Awards. Winners were:
Workplace - Meredith Village Savings Bank
Community - Lakes Region Food Network
Individual – Richard and Carol Wallace of Alton.
The Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health was presented with the Military Leadership Award from Jo Moncher, bureau chief of community-based military programs for the NH Department of Health and Human Services, for its work on behalf of military families.
Caption for PPHaward pix
Lisa Morris, executive director of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, and Sally Minkow, president of the board of directors of the LRPPH, accept the Military Leadership Award from Jo Moncher, bureau chief of community-based military programs for the NH Department of Health and Human Services. The organization was honored for its work on behalf of New Hampshire military service personnel. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)