Washington takes aim at New England opioid epidemic

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/06/16/washington-takes-aim-at-new-england-opioid-epidemic/

WASHINGTON – Massachusetts could get up to $20 million in federal aid to help fight the opioid epidemic here, while New Hampshire, where the drug overdose epidemic is arguably worse, may receive $5 million, under a proposal from President Barack Obama pending in Congress.

Obama’s estimated funding for state opioid treatment programs, released earlier this week, totals $1.1 billion spread over two years, starting in October. But Republican congressional leaders have deferred action on the funding proposal until later this year. Still, a Senate committee has approved $261 million to combat opioid abuse in fiscal 2017, or almost twice as much as was dedicated to the battle previously, according to Cleveland.com.

Apparently, lawmakers understand the situation has become a public health crisis. In 2014, Massachusetts ranked 13th among states for deaths by drug poisoning. But the state Public Health Department estimates the number of overdose deaths at more than 1,500 last year, almost triple the number recorded in 2010. In New Hampshire, the numbers are even worse with the death toll rising over 30 percent to 439 last year, according to a report in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

The Granite state’s death rate from drug poisoning ranks it third in the nation in terms of population size, behind only West Virginia and New Mexico, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In other New England states, Rhode Island had the sixth-highest overdose rate by population, Connecticut was 17th, Maine 20th and Vermont 27th.

Under Obama’s proposal, Rhode Island would get $4 million in aid – the same as Vermont and Maine – over two years. Connecticut could receive up to $9 million, according to White House numbers. The proposal would base aid amounts partly due to a state’s strategy for responding to the epidemic.

In Manchester, New Hampshire’s biggest city, police are concerned about funding to maintain a crackdown on drug dealers, the Union Leader reported. Known as the “Granite Hammer,” the statewide enforcement effort – which the city has funded for around $100,000 – has resulted in 94 arrests and the seizure of drugs and more than $150,000 in cash.

Massachusetts has been a national leader in finding ways to rein in abuse of opioids, synthetic opiates prescribed as painkillers, and copycat drugs often mixed with heroin to increase its potency. Several local law enforcement agencies recently formed the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which helps other departments fight the deadly epidemic.

Obama’s proposal, originally put forward earlier this year and the focus of a renewed effort this week, is part of a larger federal initiative, including $94 million for 271 community health centers around the nation to cover addiction treatment. The president has also directed federal departments to offer opioid prescription training to in-house health care providers and others.

Almost 27,000 people died from opioid-related causes in 2014 – about 78 deaths daily, CDC figures show. But when heroin deaths are excluded, the number attributed to prescription painkillers was about 19,000, a nearly 20 percent increase from the previous year.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.