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Proposed fentanyl penalties on fast track

State House Bureau

December 02. 2015 11:34PM

CONCORD — Making the penalties for distributing fentanyl the same as marijuana has nearly unanimous support among lawmakers.

A subcommittee of the Joint Task Force for the Response to the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic in New Hampshire decided Wednesday to fast track a bill in January to up the penalties so it could become law by the middle of January.

The task force’s chair Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, called the decision an important step.

“By strengthening these penalties to mirror those of heroin and other illegal drugs, we hope to deter the trafficking and use of fentanyl, which is even deadlier than heroin and has caused more overdose related deaths than heroin alone,” he said. “We heard strong and compelling testimony from the Attorney General’s Office and the State Forensic Lab who are supportive of the direction this provision takes and we all believe this is the appropriate way to address this problem at this time.”

Upping the penalties has been one of the proposals to help combat the state’s heroin/opioid epidemic that has broad bipartisan support among lawmakers, as is expanding the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and streamlining insurance coverage guidelines for substance abuse treatment and recovery.

The subcommittee heard testimony on two bills that would address the issue of quick insurance approvals for substance abuse treatment.

One bill proposed by Bradley would require insurers to file reports with the Health and Human Services Commissioner on their compliance with treatment practices developed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

The bill would eliminate preauthorization requirements for medically necessary substance abuse treatment for the first two visits.

A bill proposed by Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, would eliminate preauthorization as well for all insurance policies written after July 1, 2016.

Both bills were reviewed by the subcommittee, as were bills dealing with the overdose blocking drug Narcan.

This past session a new law was passed to make Narcan available to individuals at risk of overdosing, their family members and friends.

The committee heard from several people that the new law makes an overdose more likely because the person believes possessing Narcan will prevent their overdose.

But others said Narcan saves lives. The subcommittee decided to promote Sen. Andy Sanborn’s bill to study the use of Narcan and make recommendation on potential changes to the law.

The Bedford Republican also proposed a bill for a three-month study on developing long-term recovery centers.

“My proposal would establish long-term addiction recovery treatment options that are currently lacking in New Hampshire, including treatment centers or peer to peer recovery services that are holistic, widely available and at an affordable cost,” Sanborn said.

He said the state needs to determine what roll it should play in facilitating needed long-term services.

Sanborn’s bill would require a study group to report in three months so a bill could be passed next session to address the issue.

The subcommittee studying regulation and oversight meets Thursday beginning at 9 a.m.

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