June 14. 2018 8:45PM

NH gets $23m boost to battle opioid crisis epidemic

New Hampshire Union Leader

Used syringes are collected by volunteers for the Hand-Up syringe services program in Dover and Rochester. They'll also meet up with individuals who are afraid to come to a public site. (Shawne K. Wickham/Sunday News)

The Trump administration came through Thursday with a massive increase in federal money to fight the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire, announcing more than a seven-fold boost in grants for prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

The news caps a nearly two-year aggressive lobbying campaign by Democratic U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, who got bipartisan buy-in for the prospect of changing the aid formula to benefit hardest-hit states.

The discretionary grants for New Hampshire would go from $3 million annually to $26 million and must be spent between now and the end of the current federal budget year on Sept. 30, both senators have confirmed.

This announcement comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which under the omnibus federal budget bill approved last spring set aside $6 billion in the next two years.

Within that amount, Shaheen and Hassan convinced Congress to earmark $142 million this year to states like New Hampshire that have among the highest mortality rates from opioid overdoses.

Hassan and Shaheen convinced the Trump administration to limit this earmarked money to just the 10 most-affected states from the epidemic that included New Hampshire, West Virginia and Ohio among others.

“This significant increase in funding for treatment is long overdue and will undoubtedly help save lives across our state,” said Shaheen.

Hassan praised the Trump administration for its prompt action.

“It has long been clear that we need significantly more funding to combat the opioid crisis, and this announcement is an important next step in our efforts to help save lives and support those on the front lines of this devastating epidemic,” Hassan said. “I commend Secretary (Alex) Azar for heeding my calls — and those of Senator Shaheen and our entire New Hampshire congressional delegation — to change the flawed funding formula and ensure that states like New Hampshire that have been hardest hit get our fair share of funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts.”

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was one of the prime authors of the so-called CURES Act, the 2015 federal law that created many of the grant programs that SAMHSA awards to states.

The existing formula heavily awarded grants based on population.

In each of the first two years under that federal law, New Hampshire got $3 million annually, the minimum grant given to states.

In future years under the budget deal, New Hampshire could get still more additional money because high mortality rates becomes a bigger component for all SAMHSA grant programs over this issue.

“Additional funding to respond to the opioid epidemic has been my number one priority in Congress, and I’m very relieved that we’ve been able to work together to secure these critical resources for New Hampshire,” Shaheen said.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a first-term Republican, traveled to Washington on more than half a dozen occasions to push for New Hampshire to receive more federal support.

“We have worked with the Trump Administration since day one, and today’s announcement is terrific news for New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a statement Thursday night. “I am pleased our calls for increased funding have been answered, and we will work diligently to ensure it is invested wisely.”

Last March, Trump returned to New Hampshire for the first time since the 2016 campaign to announce his opioid strategy that included seeking the death penalty for repeat drug dealers.

At that event, Trump vowed to deliver more resources to states struggling to keep up with drug overdoses.

“Since then, we’ve worked with Congress to ensure at least six billion additional dollars, going through right now, in new funding in 2018 and 2019 to combat the opioid crisis,” Trump said at the time in remarks at Manchester Community College. “And we will be spending the most money ever on the opioid crisis.”