My Turn: Use drug crime forfeitures to address opioid epidemic

For the Monitor
Published: 2/11/2020 6:00:34 AM

In 2019, 252 Granite Staters died from opioid overdoses, and of those, 75 died from pure fentanyl – no other drugs were found in their system when they took their last breath. And while any death of any New Hampshire resident is undoubtedly a tragedy, the opioid epidemic has wreaked much more havoc on our state.

In 2017, New Hampshire lost 34 of every 100,000 residents to an opioid overdose, which is more than twice the national average of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. This loss of life has translated into nearly 8,000 workers missing from the state’s economy and the Granite State losing a cumulative $6.6 billion in economic activity from 1999 to 2015.

The opioid epidemic has also negatively impacted New Hampshire children. According to one organization, about 28 of every 1,000 children in the United States are affected by the opioid epidemic (such as children who have lost a parent, have parents incarcerated due to opioids and children who are now in the foster care system due to opioids). In New Hampshire, 51 children per every 1,000 are affected by opioids, nearly twice the national average.

Further, the Granite State does not to have the financial means to continue to fight against the opioid epidemic. In 2019, Granite Pathways, our only in-state youth residential treatment center, closed its doors. The closure comes in response to a plethora of issues at the facility, including drug overdoses and cases of sexual assault, but the reason behind Granite Pathways’ ultimate decision to shut down was a lack of funding.

In response to our excessive opioid overdose death rate, New Hampshire has been the recipient of more than $57 million in state opioid response grants from the federal government. With that grant, the 2020-21 fiscal budget dedicates funding to substance abuse treatment, including inpatient and outpatient services, mental health and law enforcement.

Unfortunately, our reliance on the federal government is not enough to address this real-time crisis in the Granite State. Given that Washington, D.C., is currently straddling $23 trillion in debt and newly created federal programs are unable to live up to their financial responsibilities, it is time for Granite Staters to devise state-based solutions to address the opioid epidemic.

I have introduced House Bill 1563 to do just that. This first-of-its-kind legislation seeks to divert the proceeds from criminal drug forfeitures to the programs that New Hampshire is currently utilizing to address the opioid epidemic.

Under current law, after a criminal conviction, a person’s assets associated with the crime, including cash and property, are typically forfeited to the state and disbursed by the attorney general. Despite attempts to change the current law, including legislation signed in 2018, there is very little transparency for these transactions.

Rather than the Attorney General’s Office receiving the forfeited assets, my legislation will divert criminal drug forfeitures to programs that can address the opioid epidemic, including rehabilitation and drug treatment. Forfeitures will be seized and sent to the Governor and Executive Council, which will then allocate them based on need throughout the state.

I truly believe in this legislation. It will bring much-needed transparency to New Hampshire’s criminal justice system and also provide a state-based solution to the opioid epidemic.

(James Spillane of Deerfield represents Rockingham District 2 in the N.H. House of Representatives.)




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