My Turn: Fund the front lines

For the Monitor
Published: 9/15/2021 7:00:59 AM

I am writing as a person in long-term recovery, as a father of a daughter who is in recovery, and as director of SOS Recovery Community Organization.

On Sept. 17 at 10 a.m., the NH Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee will meet and several GOP members along with one democrat are threatening to decimate the funding for prevention, treatment and recovery from substance use disorder and mental health in the State of New Hampshire.

This comes following a vote to table federal block grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the amount of over $6 million. This supplements state funding and does not require matching state funds. It is federal money allocated to New Hampshire that they must vote to accept before the Executive Council can vote and approve it.

Sen. Bob Guida was quoted stating he needs proof that treatment works in this state. This shows a lack of basic understanding of the complex and underfunded system of prevention, treatment and recovery programs in this state.

Sen. Giuda, Senate President Chuck Morse, Sen. Gary Daniels, Rep. Jess Edwards, Rep. Karen Umberger and Rep. Peter Leishman are risking lives if this funding isn’t approved. All the funded prevention, treatment and recovery programs are required to meet strict guidelines for being evidence-based and for efficacy.

It seems these legislators lack understanding of the scope of what is funded under this grant if they reject this funding. Are they willing to abandon prevention programs for our kids? Does each of them understand that there are 20 peer-based recovery centers in this state that are improving outcomes of clinical treatment programs using evidence-based services funded by this grant?

There are numerous peer-reviewed studies showing residential and outpatient treatment programs, particularly using medication for opioid use disorder are working and funded under this block grant. Numerous studies have demonstrated efficacy and are easily accessible which would indicate either these legislators don’t care about people struggling with alcohol and substance use disorder and their families or they haven’t invested the time to educate themselves.

Why the hypocrisy that these same legislators vocally support, without any questioning of evidence, arrest and incarceration to lock people in cages for a health condition such as substance use disorder? Evidence has shown it does not work and these legislators support funding those programs.

Why are programs that do demonstrate efficacy and require evidence-based practices being questioned? In fact, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) states, “According to research that tracks individuals in treatment over extended periods, most people who get into and remain in treatment stop using drugs, decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.”

Furthermore, NIDA points out that recurrence rates after treatment are similar to those of diabetes, asthma and hypertension. Would they suggest we stop funding medical care for those conditions or are they simply discriminating against those with a substance use disorder and feel our families and loved ones are less important?

New Hampshire has seen decreases in overdose death rates due to the hard work of the agencies on the front lines that receive this funding. Evidence is being presented regularly to New Hampshire policymakers from prevention, treatment and peer-based recovery supports showing it is working with outcomes presented on a quarterly basis.

Why aren’t these legislators paying attention? Why hasn’t Gov. Chris Sununu spoken up publicly on the tabling of funding and used his influence to work with these legislators to make sure they approve this?

I call on these legislators to talk to those impacted, consider that nothing about us in the recovery community should be decided without us, and to listen to those on the front lines rather than make ambiguous claims that evidence of efficacy hasn’t been presented to them when it’s readily available.

We still have hundreds dying in this state annually from preventable overdose deaths as well as from alcohol and other drugs. New Hampshire is one of few states seeing reductions in those deaths while the country is seeing massive increases.

We have evidence of reduction of diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis and other serious medical illnesses as a result of this work that cannot be ignored as well. Failure to accept these funds will most definitely send us back more than five years in our hard work with limited resources and it will kill our loved ones.

We call on these legislators to stop playing politics with our lives and our friends’ and families’ lives. We call on each of you to let them know the harm they may bring to our state. We also call on Gov. Sununu to intervene and call on the leaders of his party on this joint fiscal committee to stand by the work he’s done and the words he has spoken supporting the funding of these programs.

(John Burns is director of SOS Recovery Community Organization with peer-based recovery centers in Rochester, Dover and Hampton.)

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