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Michele Merritt: More steps to prevent substance misuse



For the Monitor
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

New Hampshire is taking large swings against substance misuse, and rightfully so, as substance use has cost our state thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Community and state-level systems are overwhelmed by the escalating rates of substance misuse and our elected officials are taking this crisis seriously. That much is clear from the plan that our state officials have laid out to combat this issue.

It is clear that ensuring access to evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery programs is paramount as New Hampshire attempts to overcome our addiction epidemic. The state’s plan for the $45 million available in federal grants takes this reality into account, focusing on a holistic, person-centric approach to treatment and recovery in communities.

The regional hubs outlined in the plan aim to support a more fully integrated system of care, including recovery housing, medication-assisted treatment, and job and economic opportunities. The plan directs further resources toward certain populations, which have previously fallen through gaps in the system, including pregnant women, children and families in rural areas, and individuals in the criminal justice system, among others. These are investments New Hampshire needs to ensure that treatment and recovery services are available to all who raise their hand for help.

Still, despite this funding, there remains much more work to do. We must further our prevention efforts, and we must continue to build our system of community and in-home supports for children and families impacted by addiction. The impact of New Hampshire’s substance misuse crisis on families cannot be underestimated.

New Hampshire has seen a drastic increase in cases of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), as a result of prenatal exposure to opioids. Grandparents and other relatives are becoming increasingly responsible for the care of children whose parents live with a substance use disorder. On top of all this, children living in homes with addiction are exposed to numerous adverse childhood experiences, significantly increasing the likelihood future multigenerational substance use. It is imperative that these children and families are supported.

For children, a stable relationship with an adult, be it a parent, grandparent, other relative or child care provider, can ensure their development of social and emotional connections, known to buffer against damaging adverse childhood experiences and mitigate chances of negative outcomes, such as using substances themselves.

Along with this state plan, we must continue to focus on supporting our state’s youngest residents and whole families. Policies that can have a major impact on our prevention efforts include supporting a system of family resource centers, increasing access to home visiting programs and supporting prevention programs.

This plan could be a game-changer and is an important step toward New Hampshire being more well-prepared to fight substance-use disorders. However, we must all acknowledge that our work does not end here if we are to truly break free of this crisis.

(Michele Merritt is the president and CEO of New Futures in Concord.)