Across our state, people are dying from the heroin and opioid crisis — at least 258 of our family, friends and neighbors already this year. Hundreds more have overdosed, their lives saved only by the quick action of first responders, medical providers and their family and friends. There are few people who I meet in our great state who haven't had their lives touched by this epidemic.
We must act now to save lives and to reverse the tide of addiction. We must act now with comprehensive action to help those addicted recover, to help prevent new addictions, and to help first responders and others fighting on the front lines of this crisis.
That's why over the last several months, I have been working closely with legislative leaders from both parties and people across the state on a comprehensive package of legislation to save lives and give patients, providers, parents and law enforcement better tools to combat this epidemic.
I was hopeful that legislative leaders would call themselves into a special session or, at the very least, outline a plan for an expedited bill to reach my desk for signature by the end of January. But they did not.
In the face of this crisis, our citizens and our communities can't wait for the Legislature to send a bill to my desk in April or May. This epidemic deserves the full and swift attention of the legislature, not just being one thing considered along with the nearly 1,000 other bills the legislature will take up next year.
That is why I have called the legislature back into a special session on November 18 and asked them to consider comprehensive legislation to address our opioid crisis, allowing for a full public process.
There is strong bipartisan support for many of the measures we are proposing, such as cracking down on fentanyl, which has been the major cause of overdose death in 2015, and bringing the laws and penalties for the distribution and sale of fentanyl in line with those for heroin.
We agree that we need to develop a statewide drug court plan to expand existing drug courts and establish new ones across the state, including in Manchester.
We know that we need to strengthen our prescription drug monitoring program, mandating greater use by prescribers and upgrading technology to ensure that more prescribers can use it in a timely fashion.
We need to provide additional law enforcement support to our hardest-hit communities — similar to the grant-funded effort underway in Manchester — and to continue to address backlog in the State Police Forensic Laboratory.
We know that many heroin addictions begin with prescription drug addictions. We must require all of our medical boards to update prescribing practices to help stem the tide of new addictions.
We must streamline access to treatment by requiring all insurance companies to use the same evaluation criteria and removing prior authorization requirements in certain cases.
And we need to strengthen our support for community-based treatment, prevention and recovery efforts through the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery.
To those who say we can't afford to invest in these steps, I say that we can't afford not to. Every month, we lose dozens of our fellow citizens. We can't afford to lose more lives. We can't afford the devastation to our families losing their loved ones to this crisis. We must act now.
This legislation builds on steps we have already taken to combat the most pressing public health and safety crisis facing our state.
We have increased the safe and effective use of Narcan by first responders and police officers to immediately save lives, and now families and loved ones of those at the risk of an overdose can also access this life-saving treatment.
We launched our prescription drug monitoring program in October 2014.
We are bringing a nationally recognized provider training program to New Hampshire later this month, and we are strengthening youth prevention and education efforts at our schools and in our communities.
And thanks to our bipartisan health care expansion program, thousands of Granite Staters have accessed substance abuse and mental health services since coverage began last August.
But we know that is not enough, and that in order to stem — and reverse — the tide, we must fight together every single day to strengthen our efforts to combat the heroin and opioid crisis and save lives.
Combating the substance abuse crisis and saving lives transcends politics, as the Executive Council demonstrated with its strong bipartisan approval of my call for a special legislative session.
There is significant support from both parties for many of the items in the proposal that I have put forward. And there is absolutely no reason to wait on taking these steps now to save lives.
(Democrat Maggie Hassan is currently serving her second term as governor of New Hampshire.)
- Category: Columns
- Hits: 697