CONCORD — With the Senate Finance Committee expected to consider funding for substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery programs next week, New Futures, a nonpartisan advocacy organization, yesterday hosted a panel discussion to address the scourge of heroin addiction overtaking the state. Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams was one of the featured participants.
In 2014, overdoses of heroin claimed 321 lives in New Hampshire and only the prompt response of emergency medical technicians and physicians spared the lives of nearly 2,000 others.
One of those 321 was Amber Blevens of Manchester, whose stepmother Kriss Blevens told of Amber's desire to escape the grip of her addiction only to find herself time and again on the waiting list for a place at a rehabilitation center. She recalled visiting her at the Valley Street Jail, her fifth and final spell behind bars, where she desperately clawed at the glass window of her cell and cried "there is no recovery in here". Blevens suggested that "treatment in jail would be a good beginning".
Linda Saunders Paquette, executive director of New Futures, said that more than 100,000 residents of New Hampshire need treatment for opioids — both prescription medications like oxycodone and street drugs like heroin — but there is capacity to treat fewer than 6,000. Only in Texas is an addict in need of treatment less likely to receive it then in New Hampshire.
Chief Adams explained that his department has taken a fresh approach to addiction. An officer, Eric Adams, assigned exclusively to the problem who responds to every reported overdose, not with the intent to enforce the law or make an arrest, but to persuade victims to seek treatment and escort them to the road to recovery. The officer works closely with addicts and their families, serving as "the go to" person for treatment, information and support. He also shepherds individuals through the legal process, including parole and probation, and assists those serving sentences prepare for a successful reintegration into society by helping prepare them for employment."
The initiative, Adams said, is unique and has begun to serve as a model for other departments.
But, as Cheryle Pacapelli, herself a recovering addict who is executive director of Hope for N.H. Recovery, noted, New Hampshire is the only state in New England without a single recovery center providing "treatment on demand". Connecticut, she said has three treating 15,000 people each year, while Vermont operates a dozen.
"We need to get on this bus," she said.
Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services projects that the 2016-2017 state budget adopted by the House of Representatives would, if passed into law, result in depriving 955 of the 5,200 receiving outpatient counseling services and short-term residential treatment of services each year. Moreover, by failing to provide sufficient funding to qualify for matching federal funds another 726 patients would go without services.
Tym Roark of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, said that "the budget does nothing, nothing, to address the situation" and warned "next year at this time we won't be talking about 300 people, well be talking about 600, or 800 or 1,000." He said there are three major fiscal issues. First, funding treatment alcohol abuse with 5 percent of the profits from liquor sales as the law prescribes. Second, perpetuation the health protection program, or expanded Medicaid program, which includes a benefit for substance abuse treatment. And third, providing a substance abuse benefit for those enrolled in Medicaid. "If we don't pull that light switch," he said, "this state will stay in the dark.