Public gives input on federal grant to combat opioids in N.H.

  • OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. A 2017 shows that repealing the Affordable Care Act would cut 5.5 billion a year for substance-abuse and mental health treatment, creating a 50 percent spike in the number of people unable to address their opioid dependence. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Liz O. Baylen

Monitor staff
Published: 8/14/2018 2:20:55 PM

Patty Crooker of Nashua says there needs to be more education and better mobile services for people battling addiction.

Corienne Dodge would like to see more sober housing in New Hampshire that would remain under the watchful eye of heightened government oversight.

Cathy Thompson of UNH’s Northeast Passage program, which promotes recreation opportunities for individuals with disabilities, wants the state to support more therapy options for people in treatment and recovery.

They were among dozens of community members and professionals who offered their thoughts on how money from a federal grant should be used to battle the opioid crisis at a public comment session in Concord on July 23.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is awarding 59 State Opioid Response grants to state agencies totaling $930 million. New Hampshire is in line to get $45.8 million to be spent over the next two fiscal years.

The Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner also took written comments for a two-week period, and 40 different local and national organizations and government offices submitted their 2 cents.

On Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu and DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers will detail their plan for the grant. The plan should create clear “points of entry” for anyone dealing with substance abuse and increase access to education, workforce opportunities and recovery housing. The plan will include a regional approach by dividing the state into nine regions.

While states and towns all over the country are fighting the opioid epidemic, the grant program is designed to target funds to communities to implement stronger medicine-assisted treatments, reduce the number of untreated users and reduce the number of deaths through prevention, treatment and recovery activities.

In 2016, New Hampshire saw 481 overdose deaths with the third-highest rate of fatal opioid overdoses by population in the country, behind West Virginia and Ohio, according to the CDC and Kaiser Family Foundation.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig echoed Dodge’s request to increase safe and sober housing options.

“Safe, supportive housing is a critical component for community members to achieve and maintain health,” she wrote. “Lack of a stable, alcohol- and drug-free living environment can be a serious obstacle to sustained abstinence.”

Jo Porter, director of UNH’s Institute for Health Policy and Practice, suggested that prevention efforts be focused “in priority and emerging populations.”

“The current demographics of New Hampshire should be considered in planning for prevention, treatment and recovery efforts,” Porter wrote. “This includes New Hampshire’s reality that its population is aging and there has not been direct planning for the needs of the older adult population and its addiction experience.”

Other requests were more straightforward.

David Mikolaities, adjutant general for the New Hampshire National Guard, suggested DHHS give the Guard $150,000 to support their Counterdrug Civil Operations program.

“If the NHNG received opioid grant funds, we could hire up to two service members in a state active duty status to augment the current Counterdrug Civil Operations specialist to provide support to state, regional and local community anti-drug coalitions,” Mikolaities wrote.

Dr. Joanne Conroy, president and CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, said the funds should be used for better education around opioids. The programs Conroy suggested involve addiction education for medical and social work professionals who wouldn’t normally receive such training. The hope is that many more health care providers can register to be addiction board-certified, thus creating a larger system of support workers. Conroy said she would also like to see some of the money used for future education to keep staff up to date on treatment advances.

More information about the grant and the comments are available on the DHHS website.

The final list of agencies that will receive money is expected to be announced on or around Sept. 30, with the money becoming available in December.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 272-6414 ext. 8325, or on Twitter @jaked156.)

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