LACONIA — The U.S. would spend $63 billion over 10 years to combat addiction beyond the opioid epidemic under legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Shaheen, the state’s senior senator, outlined her proposal Friday at a news conference with recovery center workers, health care providers and advocates. Later she held a roundtable discussion in at Navigating Recovery in Laconia with representatives of local government, health care organizations and social service agencies.
In rolling out the bill, called the Turn the Tide Act, Shaheen said substance use disorders claim 70,000 lives a year nationally at a cost of $500 billion to the economy. Congress recently authorized $6 billion to respond to the opioid crisis, but Shaheen said providers and others need more flexibility in how they spend it.
Such flexibility in how states would be able to use federal money to treat or prevent a range of substance abuse disorders – including those generated by the use of methamphetamine – is critical if current local services and program are to have their intended effect, participants in the Laconia discussion said.
Existing federal funding is restricted to helping those addicted to opioids.
But Johnny Wade, recovery counselor at Navigating Recovery-Lakes Region, and the Doorway at Lakes Region General Hospital said many of those with serious emotional and drug issues have a “trifecta” of problems: Mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.
He was encouraged that the legislation would provide funding to deal with a range of programs designed to tackle the ramifications of what’s being called the opioid epidemic — not just for users, but also for those who help them.
Laconia Police Officer Eric Adams and Fire Chief Kirk Beattie pointed out that the $10 million contained in the bill to help first responders who need mental health and wellness services to cope with the stress of their jobs is a valuable part of the bill.
Shaheen noted that, in a recent meeting with members of the Manchester Police Department, she was told that officers who have been on the force for five years or less make up half of the department. These officers have seen more overdose deaths in their short time on the department than many who have far more years of service, she said.
Her legislation would increase state opioid response treatment grants from $1.5 billion per year to $5.5 billion per year for the next five years, and would change the grants to allow the money to be used for the treatment of disorders involving non-opioids, such as methamphetamines.
It would also prioritize prevention, seeking to replicate a successful New Hampshire program aimed at helping children who witness violence and other trauma.
"This is a substantial, long-term investment in getting more Granite Staters and Americans across the country on the road to recovery. It would help our state get ahead of the curve as we see different threats like meth that are coming in, and most important, it would save lives," she said.
Corey Gately, director of substance abuse services for LRGHealthcare, said the Doorway at Lakes Region General Hospital has served 1,200 people since the center opened six months ago. People with a wide range of problems are seen at the Doorway, she noted.
“Restrictions on funding put us in a tough spot,” she said.
Chelsea Lemke praised provisions in the bill that are meant to address staffing challenges many agencies now face.
She said it is necessary to attract more qualified professionals to the state, particularly to communities north of Concord. As it is now, she said, too often when one agency hires someone to fill a position, that person often comes from another agency in the state.
“It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.
The bill would also provide $50 million a year to help the treatment workforce to pay for student loans, including $25 million that is reserved for medical professionals practicing in hard-hit states like New Hampshire.
Shaheen was told that the programs in the Lakes Region appear to be having positive results.
Beattie said that based on current statistics, overdose deaths in Laconia could be the lowest they have been in five years.
“Every death represents a family member, a friend or a coworker lost," Shaheen said earlier in the day. "Despite progress in making more federal resources available to our state, the sad truth is that New Hampshire still doesn’t have the capacity and resources to get treatment to everyone who needs it. The Turn the Tide Act is a substantial long-term investment in getting more Granite Staters and Americans across the country on the road to recovery.”