My Turn: The opioid crisis is New Hampshire’s ‘rainy day’

  • State Sen. Dan Feltes

For the Monitor
Published: 12/16/2017 12:14:58 AM

This week, I joined my fellow Democratic state senators introducing the RESCUE Act, a bill designed to bolster the state’s effort to combat the opioid epidemic. New Hampshire continues to have one of the worst opioid epidemics, while also ranking among the worst in treatment capacity.

The RESCUE Act will allow for immediately available additional resources without using any general funds, without relying on any surplus monies, and without raising any additional taxes or fees. The legislation will allow the governor to declare a state-level public health emergency triggering access to the Rainy Day Fund, which currently holds $100 million. If passed, the emergency announcement will permit access to up to 10 percent of the Rainy Day Fund, including possibly increasing resources for treatment and recovery services, recruiting and training first responders, helping hospitals handle an influx of patients, including on mental health, and further combating the flow of opioids. The reality is there is a rainy day right now – it’s the opioid epidemic.

At the federal level, despite a campaign promise to solve New Hampshire’s opioid public health epidemic, including with greater resources, President Donald Trump has yet to take action. Yes, he declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, but he refused to allocate more money into the Emergency Funds. He has also refused to change the federal treatment and recovery funding formula that significantly short-changes New Hampshire because it funds states based on population, not based on actual need. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan have filed legislation to address this, and hopefully the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate passes it.

At the state level, Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget was a missed opportunity to meaningfully address the opioid public health epidemic.

Gov. Sununu’s budget spends much more on additional tax breaks for large corporations, many with headquarters out of state, than it does on combating our opioid epidemic. Under Gov. Sununu’s budget, New Hampshire is on track to spend less on treatment and recovery services than in Gov. Hassan’s last term.

On paper the budget may appear to provide an increase in state support for treatment and recovery programs, but there is also a provision that allows the diversion of that treatment and recovery program money to support a line item in the budget of Health and Human Services. That very line item is also then cut by $4.4 million in the second year of Gov. Sununu’s budget. If back-filled with the treatment and recovery money, New Hampshire will actually spend less in this budget cycle than we did in the last, when including Senate Bill 533 of last year.

We need to step up our efforts to combat this public health epidemic, not backpedal.

It’s a rainy day right now – Granite Staters struggling with addiction, their families and our communities deserve meaningful action now. Dedicating 10 percent of the rainy day fund to combat this epidemic – one that threatens our state’s physical and fiscal health – is more than reasonable.

We hope our Republican colleagues in the majority, including Gov. Sununu, will see the merit of this proposal and will work together as this moves through the legislative process. Now is not the time for anyone to sit on the sidelines; it’s time to debate real proposals and take real action.

(Dan Feltes a former legal aid attorney, lives in the South End of Concord, is state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner, and serves on the Senate Finance Committee.)

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