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Safe Station dilemma: Manchester wants cost-sharing

February 13. 2018 11:50PM

The law of unintended consequences has caught up with the city of Manchester’s emergency treatment program for those addicted to opioids and other powerful drugs. Mayor Joyce Craig and the board of aldermen are wise to confront the issue.

The fire department’s Safe Station initiative has been a life-saver for hundreds if not thousands of individuals from the city and from around the state. Fire Chief Dan Goonan intends to maintain that policy.

“Stations will continue to be open to anyone, regardless of where they reside, who is seeking help for substance abuse disorder,’’ Chief Goonan said last week. “The stations will remain an access point to those seeking help and will be available 24 hours a day. The fire department will not turn anyone away.’’

We respect Goonan’s view. Desperate individuals, and their desperate families, know that they can get help with no questions asked by going to a fire station.

But the problem is that many of those individuals are not from the city. Manchester taxpayers are bearing a burden for treating their own. They should not have to bear the cost for other communities. The fire stations should point out-of-towners to resources closer to home.

At-large Aldermen Joe Kelly Levasseur and Dan O’Neil, not exactly political soulmates, are on the same page here. If people are coming to Manchester from surrounding areas for this crisis aid, those localities should be involved in sharing the cost.

New Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart wants to determine the average cost of a Safe Station visit, which could include personnel time, the use of an anti-opioid drug, and the cost of transporting the person to a rehab or other facility. He would then bill that average cost to the town from whence the person came.

The devil is in the details. A town could dispute such a bill, arguing that the person should have sought treatment locally. They could simply refuse to pay Manchester. What then?

Something more drastic, perhaps. The city might withhold a portion of its rooms-and-meals tax revenue to the state. The state could do the same with the recalcitrant town.

That’s a long way around the barn; but it would certainly spotlight a problem that should not be Manchester’s (or Nashua’s, which also has Safe Station) alone.

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