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NH leaders celebrate, discuss new opioid legislation

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Union Leader

October 09. 2018 10:06PM
From left, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, Cheryl Wilkie of the Farnum Center and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig talked about the benefits they expect New Hampshire will see from new federal legislation to address the opioid crisis. (Shawne K. Wickham/Union Leader)



MANCHESTER — Amid all the partisan rancor that dominated the news last week, a rare moment of bipartisanship went largely unnoticed: Passage of a comprehensive legislative package to address the opioid epidemic.

New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both Democrats, joined local leaders Tuesday at the Farnum Center in Manchester to highlight the benefits New Hampshire can expect from the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. (The acronym stands for Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment.)

Shaheen noted that the legislation passed in the Senate last week by a 98-1 vote. A week earlier, it had passed the House, 393-8.

“That shows the real understanding and appreciation across this country, by people in both parties, of the challenges that we face when addressing the opioid epidemic,” Shaheen said.

The measure now awaits the President’s signature.

Shaheen said the New Hampshire delegation sought input from many individuals on the front lines of the opioid crisis in New Hampshire before crafting provisions of the SUPPORT Act.

One portion of the legislation focuses on programs that help children in families struggling with substance use disorder, Shaheen said. Another expands access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), by increasing the number of patients physicians can treat, and allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe such treatment drugs.

There’s also support for law enforcement efforts to stop fentanyl trafficking, with additional support for the post office and customs and border protection, Shaheen said. “If we can interdict fentanyl at our borders, it will help significantly to make sure that people aren’t getting that very lethal drug,” she said.

Hassan pushed to include resources for recovery housing and comprehensive opioid treatment centers.

And she praised a provision from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to include MAT training for opioid addiction in medical schools.

“Right now, when people leave medical school, they can prescribe opioids right away, but they can’t necessarily prescribe the medications people need to fight and recover from their addiction,” Hassan said.

Hassan said the measure also “cracks down on bad actors in the pharmaceutical industry who have been turning a blind eye to the diversion of opioid shipments for illicit purposes.”

Dr. William Goodman, chief medical officer at Catholic Medical Center, called the new legislation “a major milestone in our nation’s response” to the crisis. He is leading a national pilot project to begin MAT in the emergency department after patients have overdosed.

Goodman noted that three-quarters of injection drug users “started their addiction journey with prescription pills.”

New rules for how physicians in New Hampshire prescribe opioids, passed by the Board of Medicine, are decreasing the use of these drugs, he said.

Cheryl Wilkie, chief operating officer of the Farnum Center, welcomed the support from federal leaders. She commended a provision in the new legislation to expand the workforce for treatment and recovery, which includes support for peer support networks.

Wilkie also praised the added support for families affected by the crisis, including parents who have lost their children to addiction and are now raising their grandchildren.

She said prevention is key to helping the state emerge from the crisis. “I would love to be out of a job,” she said.

Celeste Clark is executive director of Raymond Coalition for Youth, which receives federal funding for its efforts to prevent substance abuse. She said youth involved in her coalition have identified marijuana use, vaping and underage drinking as the most important issues to address.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig touted the success of the city’s Safe Station program. Since it began in May of 2016, more than 4,200 people have come to city fire stations seeking help for addiction, including 214 last month alone, she said. Meanwhile, the wait to get into treatment has dropped from two to three weeks to just a few days, she said.

Wilkie warned that the hub-and-spoke system of care that the state is creating across nine regions to help individuals struggling with opioid addiction will only work if there are enough treatment resources in each area for individuals seeking help.

“It’s really important,” she said. “To have the hub, you’ve got to have spokes.”

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Beyond the Stigma, a series exploring solutions to the state’s addiction and mental health challenges, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, NAMI New Hampshire and private individuals. Contact reporter Shawne K. Wickham at swickham@unionleader.com.


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