Fighting for those on the frontlines
I wanted to share with you a piece I wrote in the Nashua Telegraph last week on the opioid crisis and its far-reaching impact on New Hampshire's economy and communities across our state. I also address our state's need for more funding to help us combat this epidemic:
Fighting for those on the Frontlines of the Opioid Epidemic
By Congresswoman Annie Kuster
When I met Jennifer and the other young mothers participating in Moms in Recovery at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Addiction Treatment Program, I was struck once again by the remarkable complexity of the opioid epidemic. Far too often people think of this crisis as a problem impacting others or only a specific type of person. Increasingly, however, folks throughout New Hampshire are recognizing that substance misuse and addiction cuts across our whole society and impacts men, women, and children from all walks of life. We all know it threatens public health. But, many don’t realize it threatens our economy, with nearly $100 billion lost nationally in 2016.
And as I sat with Jennifer and her two-month-old son discussing her road to recovery, I was reminded how acutely the opioid epidemic threatens our future.
As Jennifer held her beautiful new baby, she told me that if it wasn’t for access to substance misuse treatment, she would be in jail or dead. Thankfully, Jennifer is on the right path; she is one of the lucky ones. Far too many people suffering from substance use disorder aren’t able to access the treatment and recovery services they need. This lack of treatment leads to children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and parents who aren’t around to raise their kids. Jennifer is on the right track but we need to expand access to services that support long-term recovery so that we can help create a better future for children, families, and our communities.
Building the infrastructure to create the necessary treatment capacity is going to take federal resources. The Moms in Recovery program just received $2.7 million in funding from the 21st Century Cures Act,bipartisan legislation that included $1 billion in funding to address the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, to deal with the scale of the problem in New Hampshire, we’ll need much more. New Hampshire has been hit hard by the national opioid epidemic, but the resiliency of Granite Staters can help lead the country out of this crisis.
Just last week, I was encouraged that New Hampshire received a $333,000 grant I advocated for to expand access to treatment in communities operating the Safe Stations program. Nashua Assistant Fire Chief Brian Rhodes was blunt when discussing Safe Stations. He said, “In my humble opinion, the Nashua NH Safe Station Initiative is by far the greatest Public/Private collaboration that I have experienced in my 30+ year career.” Programs like Safe Stations should serve as a model for communities across the country struggling with substance use disorder.
In 2015, I founded the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, a group which has grown to more than 100 Members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, who are committed to working across the aisle to tackle the opioid epidemic. We’ve been successful in educating our colleagues about the issue of substance use disorder and in advancing legislative solutions to expand treatment and recovery, increase prevention, and bolster law enforcement. It speaks to the growing understanding of this issue that the government spending bill signed into law last week included $3.3 billion in new funding to address the addiction crisis.
I’ve long advocated for additional resources to support those on the frontlines of this crisis and change how funding is distributed so that the hardest hit states, like New Hampshire, get the resources they need. The spending bill we passed included $142 million for the most impacted states and instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to assess their formula for opioid funding distribution. I’m working with my Republican colleague Evan Jenkins of West Virginia to write legislation that makes clear this funding shouldn’t just go to the most populous states.
The stakes in the opioid epidemic are far too high for us to fail. This isn’t going to be solved overnight, which is why I’m pushing for $25 billion in funding over five years so those on the frontlines have the certainty they need to take on this crisis. I’m going to keep fighting for Jennifer and her now four-month-old baby, for the thousands of Granite Staters who have been helped by the Safe Stations Program, and for the future of our state and our nation.