New Hampshire now has the second-highest rate of per capita drug overdose deaths nationwide, trailing only West Virginia.
Even so, the Granite State – in the throes of an opioid crisis – is low on the priority list for $1 billion of federal money currently being divvied up among the 50 states and territories. The state has been allocated $6.2 million to fight the drug crisis, but so far only half of that money has been appropriated by Congress.
The money was approved last year as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. A funding formula change by the federal agency tasked with distributing the money gives millions more to populous states like California, Texas and Florida – even though their per capita death rates are much lower than New Hampshire’s.
That has frustrated treatment advocates in the state as well as members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, who say the intent of the bill was to prioritize money to states hardest hit by opioid addiction, including New Hampshire, West Virginia and Kentucky.
“$3 million is not that much, actually,” said Tym Rourke, chairman of the New Hampshire’s Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery.
Rourke said the formula change took members of New Hampshire’s delegation and state treatment advocates by surprise.
“As recently as the day before (President Obama signed the bill), there was a conversation that it was bigger,” he said. “Somehow, within the congressional sausage-making, it got lost in translation.”
Members of New Hampshire’s delegation, including Rep. Annie Kuster and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, have expressed concern about the change.
“When we passed the 21st Century Cures Act, we were explicit about the need to prioritize funding to areas hardest hit by the opioid epidemic,” Kuster said in a written statement. “I’ve written to and spoken with SAMHSA officials to express my concern and disappointment that SAMHSA failed to follow the expressed intent of Congress.”
On Dec. 15, Kuster wrote to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the agency tasked with coming up with a funding formula, asking how the formula was determined.
The agency replied that the formula was designed to target states with the highest number of overdose-related deaths and “the greatest unmet need for treatment.”
That means states with millions more residents (and therefore more overdose deaths) than New Hampshire are prioritized.
For instance, Texas is getting the second-largest slice of federal money, $27.4 million. But that state has the fourth-lowest per capita rate for drug fatalities.
Texas’s drug death rate is in the single digits at 9.4 deaths per 100,000 people; New Hampshire’s is more than three times higher – 34.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
Shaheen said she is happy New Hampshire is getting a share of the Cures money, which she believes will be put to good use. But she echoed Kuster, saying it could be more.
“I’ve contacted both the current and previous administrations, expressing my disappointment that SAMHSA didn’t follow the clear guidelines from Congress on how to allocate this funding,” Shaheen said, adding that she will continue to advocate for more funding to come to the state.
Hassan, the former New Hampshire governor, said the Cures Act “was a step in the right direction” but doesn’t provide enough funding for the state’s opioid problem.
“New Hampshire needs more support from the federal government in our efforts to combat the heroin, fentanyl and opioid crisis,” she said.
Gov. Chris Sununu highlighted the money in his recent budget address and in press releases discussing measures being taken to fight the drug crisis.
Sununu’s state budget proposal has a number of measures designed to fight the opioid crisis, including doubling the alcohol fund and hiring a policy advisor on Prevention, Treatment and Recovery to continue working on building the state’s treatment infrastructure.
(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)