N.H. loses billions each year due to drugs, alcohol

  • Linda Saunders Paquette, president of drug treatment advocacy organization New Futures, speaks as U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen listen at the news conference at Riverbend Monday.

Monitor staff
Published: 5/8/2017 5:25:57 PM

The state’s opioid crisis is taking not only a human toll, but a growing financial one, according to a new report from the advocacy group New Futures.

Findings show the economic costs of drug and alcohol abuse in New Hampshire have soared to an estimated $2.3 billion a year – more than 3 percent of the state’s gross domestic produce.

The biggest share of the reported losses – roughly $1.3 billion – come from lost productivity and worker absenteeism driven by alcohol abuse.

While opioid addiction is in the spotlight, alcohol remains the substance most commonly abused by respondents. Nearly 115,000 New Hampshire workers are dependent on alcohol, with the food services, construction and retail industries the hardest-hit, the report found.

Alcohol abuse contributed to the loss of 9,315 male workers and 2,877 female workers in the state’s labor force and resulted in $577 million in reduced earnings over 2014, the report found.

“Substance misuse exacerbates already significant workforce challenges for our state and contributes to slower economic growth by reducing the number of individuals in New Hampshire’s labor force,” said Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy for New Futures, at a press conference Monday.

The findings come as New Hampshire continues to grapple with an ongoing opioid crisis, which led to more than 470 drug overdose deaths last year. Though economic costs attributed to addiction have grown nearly half a billion dollars since 2012, the report found some areas of progress.

More people in the state are reportedly seeking help for their addictions, a trend advocates attribute to the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover substance abuse services. Insurance claims for addiction treatment soared to 390,000 in 2014 from 63,000 two years earlier, the report found. The state has also increased its treatment capacity by 20 percent between 2013 and 2015.

“It continues to reinforce, to me, not to let up on making prevention, treatment and recovery services available,” said Tym Rourke, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. “In the absence of that, we are losing out on a workforce we really can’t afford to lose.”

While alcohol and drug use dropped slightly among young people between 2012 and 2014, substance abuse among adults over age 26 during that same time rose sharply, the report showed. Eight percent of New Hampshire adults over age 26 had alcohol or drug dependence in 2014, above the national average of 7 percent.

Age is noted as a factor in why alcohol abuse makes up most of the economic losses in worker productivity. Alcohol dependence becomes more pronounced with age, when employees tend to be in higher earning brackets, the report said.

More than 27,000 people in the labor force between the ages of 45 and 54, abuse alcohol the report found. That compares to the roughly 28,000 people across all ages in New Hampshire who are in the workforce and abuse drugs, the report found. Workers who abuse drugs accounted for $212 million in lost productivity, compared to the nearly $1.3 billion in losses attributed to alcohol abuse.

In 2012, nearly 20 percent of employees in the food services and accommodations industry abuse drugs or alcohol, the report found.

“There’s no denying the cost substance misuse has to New Hampshire economy,” said Pete Hanson, with Turbocam International.

Beyond workforce, the report found that substance abuse is putting a financial strain on law enforcement and on the health care system, estimated at $306 million and $337 million, respectively.

Drug-related offenses make up more than 1 in 4 arrests in New Hampshire, according to the report. Drug abuse resulted in an estimated cost of $105 million for policing, $19 million for courts, $64 million for corrections and $8 million in property losses, the report found. The bulk of the policing costs related to drug and alcohol abuse, about $121.11 million, are borne by local governments.

Frey called on the state to again dedicate 5 percent of liquor profits to a fund for treatment and prevention. Last budget cycle, lawmakers slashed the funding formula to just 1.7 percent. A proposal this year would set the formula at 3.4 percent, roughly $13 million over two years.

The American Health Care Act, recently approved by the U.S. House, would remove federal requirements to cover substance abuse treatment and leave it up to states. Gov. Chris Sununu said he is happy about movement in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. New Futures leader Linda Saunders Paquette raised concern.

“States could choose not to cover substance misuse,” she said. “We are worried about that.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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