MANCHESTER, N.H. – One of the key aspects of the city’s homelessness epidemic includes helping those facing drug misuse, and the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) heard two presentations on Tuesday night centered around addressing that problem.
The first presentation (see below) was made by Amanda Robichaud of Gatehouse, an addiction recovery and support organization based out of Nashua, to the BMA Special Committee on Alcohol, Other Drugs and Youth Services
Robichaud shared the first-hand experience she has with helping 73 homeless individuals recover from opioid and alcohol abuse during an eight-month period in Manchester.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig advised the committee that efforts should be first made to procure funding from the state, as millions of dollars are available for opioid treatment services at the state level.
However, Robichaud shared that only approximately half of the individuals she treated were suffering from opioid addiction, meaning that not everyone she treats in her proposal would be eligible for state funding if that trend repeated itself.
Craig also noted that other homeless individuals elsewhere in New Hampshire also require assistance and if Manchester is the only city with a program such as this, homeless people from elsewhere will overwhelm Manchester to obtain these services.
Alderman At-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur said that he would need more data about the individuals that Robichaud has helped in the past before he could support the program and Craig said that she wants more information on the city’s sober homes, which were a part of Robichaud’s plan but she said often provide limited support to those entering their programs.
Ward 12 Alderman Erin George-Kelly also expressed concern over the damage that could be done if Robichaud’s program concluded prematurely, leaving anyone she helped stranded without support.
Despite these concerns, Robichaud’s proposal did elicit support. Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long was impressed with Robichaud’s experience, stating that her efforts in the past were noticeable among individuals at Victory Park. Ward 10 Alderman and Committee Chairman Bill Barry said he did not wish to wait for state funding, citing the ongoing homelessness emergency in the city and his belief that Robichaud’s plan could address the problem.
That promise, tied to the concerns and Craig’s request to investigate state funding for the program, or at least if state funding could reimburse part or all of the initial investment from the city, led to the committee tabling a decision on the proposal.
When the full BMA met later in the evening, Manchester Health Department Director Anna Thomas was joined by Manchester Police Department Lieutenant Matthew Barter and the newly hired Manchester Health Department Director of Overdose Prevention Andrew Warner for a presentation on the city’s efforts to address overdose prevention efforts in the city.
Thomas said that Warner’s recent addition to the Health Department staff allowed the Health Department to coordinate with Barter’s evidence-based community policing efforts and investigate overdose spikes occurring around the city and flood any areas with those spikes with resources.
Warner told the BMA about the threat of a substance called Xylazine, a tranquilizer that is now cut with fentanyl-based drugs and cannot be treated by Narcan as it is not an opioid. He said that Xylazine, designed as a muscle relaxant for farm animals, can be lethal with combined with fentanyl.
He also explained to Levasseur that repeated use of Narcan on a subject does not have health impacts, but it can help prevent the health impacts that occur when individuals suffer an opioid overdose stop breathing for extended periods.
Warner also responded to another question from Levasseur citing that supervised injection centers would not be a good idea for the city at this time, but “drop-in” centers where those who have taken drugs recently can have access to bathrooms and phones would be feasible.
In regard to Robichaud’s proposal, Warner said he would investigate the efficacy of her claims, but warned that detox efforts should be collaborative and spread across organizations supporting each other collaboratively rather than focusing on one individual company or organization.
Several members of the board expressed frustration with Warner’s explanation that detox support through the state’s Doorways program can depend largely on an individual’s health insurance, and that now those seeking to enter detox programs may not have access at the time they need it.
That premise, having access to the programs when the individual is ready to obtain support, was one of the key principles of the Safe Stations program and then the Doorways program, leading to frustration.
“It sounds like the whole process we’ve worked on over the past few years is not working,” said Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza.
Warner agreed that support at the time of the individual’s choosing is a necessity, with the bottleneck in availability for services coming in part to organizations triaging to support those seeking to detox from substances that can lead to immediate death if not dealt with over those seeking support to withdraw from substances for “non-medical” reasons.
Craig said that until more resources can be provided, one of the key goals was to help individuals seeking support navigate through the process and also try and make it more welcoming.