Gatsas on White House heroin initiative: We need funding, not coordinators

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NHLC Chairman Joseph Mollica addresses a crowd at the June grand opening of New Hampshire’s largest NH Liquor & Wine Outlet, located at the Rockingham Mall shopping plaza in Salem, NH
NHLC Chairman Joseph Mollica addresses a crowd at the June grand opening of New Hampshire’s largest NH Liquor & Wine Outlet, located at the Rockingham Mall shopping plaza in Salem, NH

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mayor Gatsas told the New York Times  the new White House initiative aimed at stopping the current heroin epidemic isn’t going to cut it.

The plan, called the Heroin Response Strategy, proposes spending $2.5 million to hire public safety and public health coordinators to focus on treatment, rather than punishment of addicts.

“Anything that we do to fight this epidemic is a great thing,” Gatsas was quoted as saying in the August 17 New York Times, “but I don’t think we need coordinators. We need funding to make sure that people have the opportunity to get into rehab.”

Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, announced via a White House press release Aug. 17 that $13.4 million federal dollars will be channeled into 18 regional High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA).  Of that, $5 million will be directed to a broad range of efforts that will reduce the trafficking, distribution, and use of heroin – a drug that has emerged as a serious threat to multiple regions of the United States.

Botticelli said $2.5 million will go into developing a Heroin Response Strategy, a partnership among five regional HIDTA programs spanning 15 states — Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore — to address the threat facing those communities by way of a public health-public safety partnership.

“The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program helps Federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts and improve public health and safety,” said Director Botticelli.  “The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue. This Administration will continue to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue ‘smart on crime’ approaches to drug enforcement, increase access to treatment, work to reduce overdose deaths, and support the millions of Americans in recovery.”

New Hampshire ranks 49th out of the 50 states for access to treatment and recovery options. That New Hampshire has found itself with inadequate programs to manage the demand for treatment and services is related to the chronic lack of funding for prevention and treatment.

The NH Alcohol Fund was enacted 15 years ago, requiring by state statute that 5 percent of the state’s annual gross profit of alcohol sales to go toward prevention and treatment of addiction. However, lawmakers consistently redirect the money, fully funding the Alcohol Fund only once in the past 15 years.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 14 the New Hampshire Liquor Commission announced gross sales of alcohol for FY 2015 reached an all-time record of $642 million, an increase of $21 million – or 3.4 percent over the previous fiscal year, according to unaudited NHLC sales figures.

Total liquor net profits transferred to the New Hampshire General Fund reached a record $151.7 million, which is used to support many critical programs including education, health and social services, transportation and natural resource protection, according to the press release.

On Friday, Tym Rourke of the NH Charitable Foundation, reacted to the LCB announcement, saying  he hopes the sense of national urgency over addiction issues resonates with New Hampshire legislators.

“The transfer of over $150 million in net profits into the general fund is a stark reminder of how much money New Hampshire makes off the sale of alcohol. Given the attention to the state’s opiate epidemic, it is worth remembering that alcohol kills more people annually than all other drugs – including heroin – combined,” Rourke said.

“The legislature wisely established a fund to support expanded treatment and recovery services based on alcohol sales more than a decade ago,” Rourke said. “Unfortunately, however, the Alcohol Fund has only been funded at the original 5 percent formula once. In the ongoing budget debates, it is my hope that there is a continued conversation around a more socially responsible fiscal policy that assists communities in addressing our drug and alcohol epidemic.”


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About Carol Robidoux 5552 Articles
Journalist and editor of ManchesterInkLink.com, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.