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Shaheen lobbies for state in fight against opioids

Speaking about the opioid epidemic during a visit with The Sentinel’s editorial board Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said New Hampshire should receive at least $10 million of the new funds Congress set aside for states with high rates of overdose deaths.

Shaheen, a Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2009, said the $142-million outlay should be divided among the states with the five highest rates of opioid deaths, with a minimum of $10 million for each state.

New Hampshire has the third highest overdose death rate in the nation — 39 per 100,000 people — after West Virginia and Ohio, according to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re trying to say, you know, look at those of us who are hardest hit by this problem that are doing some really good things,” she said. “We’ve got some really effective efforts going on in New Hampshire. Let’s fund those, and let’s make sure that states like New Hampshire and West Virginia and some of the other states that are hardest hit get the dollars that we need to ensure these programs get funded.”

Her comments Wednesday come after President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that included a $6.3 billion increase in funding for opioid response and treatment over the next two years. The $142 million fund for the hardest-hit states was part of that legislation.

Shaheen and others from New Hampshire’s delegation pushed for increased funding to address the opioid crisis. In January, Shaheen and U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, also a Democrat, called for $25 billion in additional funding over two years.

Outlining funding priorities, Shaheen stressed that more money should be dedicated to helping people with substance use disorders receive treatment. She said the expansion of Medicaid in New Hampshire helped many residents get treatment who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

“What we’ve seen in a lot of those cases is that people are able to get treatment, rebuild their lives and then go on private insurance,” she said.

Federal funding is an important component of addressing the opioid epidemic across the state and in Cheshire County. In February, Cheshire Medical Center received a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to create a controlled substance network to monitor opioid prescriptions and coordinate treatment with organizations such as the Phoenix House Keene and the Keene Serenity Center.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock system is also part of a $2.7-million federal grant to create a multi-site program to screen and support pregnant women and new mothers who are addicted to opioids. Part of those funds would help Cheshire Medical Center, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock affiliate, expand its support for mothers with substance use disorders. The funds for the grant were available under the 21st Century Cures Act — a law passed in December 2016 that designates $1 billion in grants for initiatives that address the opioid epidemic.

Shaheen’s emphasis on treatment is a stark contrast to the vision Trump outlined in a March 19 speech in Manchester, focusing mostly on punitive measures, including giving the death penalty to some drug dealers.

Shaheen said that she supports stepping up prevention and law enforcement efforts, but said treatment should be a top priority. She said police chiefs across the state have recognized that law enforcement can’t “jail their way out of the opioid crisis.”

Law enforcement is very important,” she said. “What we don’t want is people dealing drugs. We don’t want drugs coming up from the southern part of the country, and making sure that we can fund those law enforcement efforts is really important.”

As part of her visit to the Monadnock Region Wednesday, Shaheen also toured Graphicast in Jaffrey and hosted a roundtable discussion in Keene about challenges facing Cheshire County and the opportunities of its possible inclusion in the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership aimed at developing economically distressed counties.