Opioid funding has bipartisan backing; Good amount of $1B package is heading to New Hampshire

Congress passed a $1 billion package of funding this week to help fight the opioid addiction crisis, and a good amount of that money is heading toward New Hampshire, according to the state’s congressional team.

"That’s real money where I come from," said U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.

The bill, the 21st Century Cures Act, provides funding for the opioid addiction crisis, as well as other pressing medical issues, like cancer research, Alzheimer’s disease and even funding to combat Lyme Disease.

Kuster, co-founder and co-chairwoman of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, said that if passed, the money will be targeted to districts that have a severe crisis, rather than have the money sent off to large-
population districts. This will make sure money comes to New Hampshire and the other rural communities hit hard by the opioid epidemic.

"We want to make sure New Hampshire gets its share," Kuster said.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Nashua Republican, said making sure the smaller, less populated communities receive funding is key to dealing with the crisis.

"We want to prioritize the states that are being hardest-hit," Ayotte said.

The bill passed through the U.S. House of Representatives and now heads to the U.S. Senate for a vote next week. Kuster hopes that once signed by outgoing President Barack Obama, funding can start getting to states in a few months.

Obama has already stated his support for the bill and Ayotte thinks it will easily get through the Senate.

"I think there will be a large, bipartisan vote for it in the Senate," she said. "It’s an important bill for New Hampshire."

The 21st Century Cures Act is comprehensive legislation intended to improve and coordinate medical innovation and research at the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Earlier this month, Kuster led a letter to House and Senate leadership calling for the inclusion of funding to address the opioid crisis.

That money will help people access treatment and recovery at places like Keystone Hall in Nashua, said Annette Escalante, the vice president at Keystone’s facility.

Right now, there are not enough beds for people seeking treatment, she said. Many people get put on a waiting list that can last four to six weeks, she said.

"It’s been a huge struggle for us for years," Escalante said. "People are dying in that time. … We’re losing people at a fast rate."

New Hampshire had around 1,000 treatment beds during the 1980s, Kuster said, but today has approximately 200. Keystone Hall has 54 beds for treatment, Escalante said, and it’s not enough to fill the current needs. Currently, Keystone is the only residential facility in Nashua.

As part of the opioid treatment funding, the bill also gets people help for mental health conditions that underpin many addictions. Escalante said it’s key to be able to get people help not just for their addictions, but also for the conditions that have contributed to the addiction in the first place.

"This is going to really enhance the services in the community," Escalante said.

The Cures Act authorizes a total of $1 billion including $500 million in each of fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to address the opioid epidemic. The funds are to be provided to state agencies that are on the frontlines of the effort to combat the opioid crisis. The grants will be awarded directly to the states and are intended to supplement existing efforts funded via grants previously provided through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com.