Executive Councilor Chris Pappas: State’s opioid crisis requires long-term solutions

For the Monitor
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

There’s a clear consensus among policymakers and public health advocates about what needs to be done to address New Hampshire’s most urgent crisis, the opioid epidemic. Yet due to unresolved questions concerning access to care and funding levels, the response to the crisis remains fragile and at risk of sliding backward.

On the Executive Council, I fought to implement Medicaid expansion and will continue to be one of its strongest advocates as the Legislature debates its future. To date, thousands of Granite Staters depend on this program to get the services they need. I hear it every place I go, from medical professionals, recovery coaches and law enforcement officials: It is our state’s most effective tool against the opioid epidemic.

Reauthorizing Medicaid expansion is essential but won’t solve the crisis alone. New Hampshire still suffers from a lack of funding for treatment, recovery and prevention efforts, a reality that leaves many critical strategies on the brink.

Several developments over the past few weeks have highlighted that many organizations are struggling to carry out their mission. Serenity Place was put in receivership in January due in part to the financial strain placed on the organization’s services offered through Manchester’s Safe Station Program. The insolvency left other local organizations scrambling to ensure that programs continued and that there was no gap in care.

The Homestead Inn announced it also may be forced to close. Despite the dire demand for its 24 recovery beds, unstable funding was cited. At the same time, HOPE for New Hampshire Recovery announced it would be forced to close four recovery centers due to insufficient financial support. Today, the Executive Council will consider a new contract that will give the organization the resources required to prevent these closures. I am determined to ensure that we will approve this item, but this contract is only one piece of the overall puzzle.

We cannot afford any steps backward at this juncture. Bake sales, charity runs and business contributions can only get these organizations so far. We need a larger, more stable funding stream to help support existing programs and expand treatment and recovery options. We need the state and federal government to step up to the plate and provide additional support, and not just in a reactive fashion.

The president has convened a commission and declared a public health emergency, but so far the strategy coming out of this White House has amounted to little more than window dressing and empty promises. If not for New Hampshire’s federal delegation, which has been fighting tooth and nail for our state’s interests, we would not be realizing any progress at the federal level. The $6 billion that was included in the recent budget deal to fight the opioid epidemic is a good start, but we need a longer-term commitment from the president and Congress that will deliver real results. States like New Hampshire need assurances of more funding for those on the front lines to help expand access to care, support law enforcement and bolster prevention efforts. Congress needs a renewed sense of urgency around tangible solutions that will make a real impact.

Currently, New Hampshire is being short-changed because the government relies on a funding formula that prioritizes states with big populations instead of those that have the highest overdose death rates. We need to see action to ensure that states feeling the brunt of this crisis are getting the resources they need. Thanks to the work of Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, we are seeing bipartisan, solution-oriented legislation in the U.S. Senate. One example is the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0 that was recently introduced. This legislation can provide real relief to states like New Hampshire by directing long-term resources that reflect the magnitude of this crisis. It’s time for Paul Ryan and leadership in the House to take up similar legislation that will give initiatives in the Granite State the support they desperately need.

The opioid epidemic is raging, but despite the president calling New Hampshire a “drug-infested den,” substance abuse doesn’t define our state or its people. What defines us in the Granite State is our ability to face problems like the opioid crisis head-on, to roll up our sleeves and forge solutions. We don’t need insults or lip service from the president or anyone else in Washington. We need action and more resources to invest in our community-based strategies that hold the promise of solving this crisis.

(Chris Pappas, a Manchester Democrat, represents District 4 on the New Hampshire Executive Council. He is also a congressional candidate in the 1st District.)