MANCHESTER, NH – Several local lawmakers are promising swift action in fast-tracking legislation to bring a drug court to Manchester.
Led by David Boutin, R-Hooksett, a contingency of legislators gathered at City Hall along with Mayor Ted Gatsas, Police Chief Nick Willard and others, promising to do everything in their power to make sure funding for a statewide grant program goes through so that by early 2016, a new drug court can be up and running in Manchester.
The funding will be appropriated from the general fund for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, said Boutin, and provide grant funding for new and existing New Hampshire drug courts.
“We’re taking bold action to introduce drug court legislation, a problem solving solution that will positively affect the welfare of those working and living in our communities,” Boutin said. “We can all agree that we cannot arrest out way out of the opiate crisis we now face. Drug court is an alternative to arrest and incarceration. It will allow counties to establish new ones and sustain existing ones, targeting those at high risk.”
It’s not a “silver bullet,” solution, but rather one small part of what has to be a concerted effort to provide wrap-around services to those battling addiction, says Judge Kenneth Brown, Associate Justice for the Hillsborough County Superior Court North, who would preside over the drug court in Manchester.
Gatsas said he believes the drug court legislation will receive strong support from the Hillsborough County delegation, many of whom he has “has heard” have reconsidered their previous votes over the summer to not fund a Hillsborough County drug court, Gatsas said.
Drug courts, currently in place in other New Hampshire municipalities, are led by a specially-trained team that would be funded with 50 percent grant funding and 50 percent county funding.
Brown estimated it would realistically take until early February for a drug court to be up and operational.
He talked about the success of the Strafford County drug court, which has been in operation for about a decade. It has reduced recidivism rates among those who complete the program to about 20 percent, compared to the national recidivism rates of 50-60 percent.
“We’ve seen how it can work,” Brown said.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, explained that part of the $3M grant will include creation of a new administrative position, Office of the Drug Court Coordinator, for handling grant applications and making sure the courts meet all state and federal standards – including working with local recovery centers to support the addicts on their journey through long-term recovery, which is the ultimate goal.
Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said the news is welcome.
“I’ve talked incessantly about shrinking the pool of those suffering from the disease of addiction. This is one step in that direction,” Willard said. “If we save one life through drug court, that’s one life that the Manchester Fire Department and firefighters aren’t saving. It’s one less call for service for Narcan use that AMR is going to have to use … When we put the rubber to the road, we need to shrink the addiction pool, and this is one step toward that.”
Fire Chief Jim Burkush said he is in full support of the initiative, and agrees that anything that can be done to reduce the number of emergency calls for overdoses would be welcome. He said his firefighters have, in some instances, treated the same individuals up to nine times for heroin overdoses.
State Rep. Pat Long, D-Manchester, said a key component to the success of a drug court is the proliferation of treatment centers, which would provide the necessary support system that is currently lacking.
The city has one support center, Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, which is primarily staffed with volunteers and only open five days a week, between business hours.
“The key is in reducing the number of drug users – this is what’s using all our resources in the city. Recovery centers are the only entity that closes the circle. Without recovery centers, even a drug isn’t going to create the kind of change we desperately need,” Long said.
Gatsas said in addition to drug court, the city must also make sure there are drug and employment options available to those going through the drug court system, so that they can make restitution, pay fines and rebuild their lives.
“When people are ready to change the opportunity has to be available . That’s why it’s important that we get this legislation passed as quickly as p0ssible, so we can save lives,” Gatsas said.