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Legislators urged to restore law that funded drug treatment programs

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 07. 2017 10:02PM

CONCORD — A roomful of drug addicts and alcoholics in recovery packed a state Senate committee room Tuesday to urge lawmakers to restore a 2000 law intended to earmark 5 percent of profit from state liquor sales to battle substance abuse.

Conor O’Keefe said he’s been to several treatment centers, but finally believes he’s getting lasting help at the Farnum Center in Franklin.

“I can assure you there are addicts that don’t want help and they may die on us. But I can assure you there are addicts that can’t afford sober living and they are forced into the streets and they will die,” O’Keefe told the Senate Finance Committee.

Bristol Republican Ned Gordon was the state senator who authored that 2000 law, which the Legislature pared back to 1.7 percent two years ago.

Back then the crisis was a soaring rate of alcoholism, especially among young people who started as binge drinkers.

Now a Circuit Court judge in Concord, Gordon said alcohol remains the deadliest drug, but the crisis of soaring numbers of overdose deaths from opioids has created a climate for lasting change.

“You can’t be just committed to a treatment program; you have to be committed to a recovery, so we need more resources going to prevention and recovery,” Gordon said.

“Unless you provide the funding to do it you won’t have the capacity to do it.”

The bill (SB 196) would increase the annual contribution to the substance abuse fund from $3.3 million to $9.7 million.

Tym Rourke, the longtime chairman of the governor’s commission on substance abuse, said the primary use for more resources would be more spending on substance abuse prevention, recovery housing and services for young adults.

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said he and former Chairman Jeanie Forrester changed the law to 1.7 percent because that was a standard that could be met in future budgets.

“Are we setting ourselves up to reducing it to zero again? That’s my fear,” Morse said.

“I am just wondering if we are not going too far.”

John Burns of Somersworth helps run three community treatment programs and says while results are promising, more money is needed.

“We went from trying to drain a lake with a thimble to trying to do it with a Dixie cup,” Burns said.

No one testified against the bill but no doubt it will become part of the omnibus debate over the next two-year state budget.

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