My Turn: State can do better on opioids

For the Monitor
Saturday, January 06, 2018

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published its annual data findings on U.S. drug overdose deaths. Once again, New Hampshire was featured as one of the top ranking U.S. states for drug overdose death rates in the country (No. 3).

In October, UNH’s Granite State Poll revealed that Granite Staters cited drug abuse as the most important problem facing our state. Why then does our current state budget spend millions of dollars less than our previous biennial state budget to address this public health crisis?

You may have heard the sound bite “the Alcohol Fund was doubled,” which may sound good; however, it does not tell the whole story. At October’s meeting of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, state Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeff Meyers reported to the commission that for fiscal year 2018, the state has $4 million less to allocate to prevention, treatment and recovery services than we had in fiscal year 2017. We can and must do better.

On Jan. 10, the House Finance Committee will hear a bill that aims to remedy this severe budgeting error and align our state spending with our Granite Staters’ needs and priorities. House Bill 1743’s solution includes fully restoring the Alcohol Fund to its originally legislated amount of 5 percent of the state’s gross profits from liquor sales. In addition, to ensure these precious Alcohol Fund dollars are utilized according to the law, “for alcohol and other drug abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services,” this bill eliminates a budget trailer bill provision that allows the governor to raid these funds for other “general operating expenses.”

Both the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery and the Legislative Children’s Caucus have voted favorably to support HB 1743. In this upcoming legislative session, we remain committed to listening to Granite Staters and to collaborating with our fellow legislators to solve our state’s problems, especially this emergency public health crisis. As sponsors of HB 1743, it is our hope that our fellow legislators will join us in supporting this bill to restore the Alcohol Fund to its originally legislated percentage and prioritize our state’s efforts to beat this epidemic.

New Hampshire should be in the national news highlighting our effective, innovative solutions that are addressing this crisis (drug courts, safe stations, youth prevention coalitions, etc.) and for our dedication to the health and well-being of all of our residents, not for our continued leading status for drug overdose death rates.

(Joelle Martin of Milford represents Hillsborough District 23 in the New Hampshire House and is a co- sponsor of HB 1743. Richard Ames of Jaffrey represents Cheshire District 9 in the House and is a co-sponsor of HB 1743.)