New drug treatment funding raises questions about best usage

By Paul Steinhauser

Concord Monitor – Saturday, June 16, 2018

Peter Evers says a new infusion of $23 million in federal funds for addiction treatment will be incredibly helpful to expand ongoing efforts to fight the state’s opioid epidemic.

The chief executive officer of Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord said he is optimistic the additional funding could be a turning point for the state, which is one of the hardest hit in the nation for the number of fatal overdoses compared to its population.

“It would allow us to provide many more flexible services that aren’t necessarily covered by insurance companies,” he explained. “It would be invaluable in adding to the resources that we can provide to maintain people’s recovery.”

But Randy Bartlett doesn’t share Evers’s optimism.

The executive director of Riverbank House – a drug rehabilitation and detox center in Laconia which receives no federal or state funding – argued that the government’s “spending the money on all these programs that are not going to promote the right kind of success.”

And he lamented that “the sad part isn’t that the Riverbend House isn’t going to benefit, the sad part is that the people who need the help aren’t going to benefit.”

Evers and Bartlett spoke with the Monitor after Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan announced that the state will receive $22.9 million in the 2018 fiscal year – which goes through the end of September – through grants distributed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That’s more than seven times the $3.1 million the state currently receives annually through the 21st Century Cures Act.

New Hampshire’s entire congressional delegation teamed up with federal lawmakers from other states hard hit by the drug crisis to push for the increased funding for states that are grappling with high percentages of drug overdoses due to the opioid epidemic.

New Hampshire has the third-highest rate of death from a drug overdose per capita (39 per 100,000), behind West Virginia and Ohio, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Riverbend – the largest provider of mental health service in central New Hampshire – is on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic.

Evers, who also serves as vice president of behavioral health at Concord Hospital, said getting a new infusion of federal funds “would be incredibly helpful to us.”

Joe Graham, a board member with Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, is also hopeful the new infusion of federal funds is “spread across the spectrum of services fighting the addiction problem here in New Hampshire.”

Graham also gave credit to the Trump administration, saying he’s thankful “the administration recognized the crisis that we have here in New Hampshire.”

Hope for New Hampshire Recovery – which offers recovery peer counseling, social activities and support groups for those struggling with addiction – closed four facilities earlier this year due to a lack of funding. A new infusion of state funding allowed them to reopen some of the facilities, but the Concord location remains shuttered.

Graham said that a surge in federal funding could allow the organization to expand, adding, “we want to be able to serve the largest amount people possible with the funds that we have.”

But he didn’t indicate that any new funding from Washington would give the organization a green light to start up the Concord location again.

“It might be that we can extend services in a way without taking on the added expense of re-opening centers,” Graham said. “It might be there are other ways to serve the community rather than mortar and brick.”

Bartlett doesn’t expect to see any of the new funds reach Riverbank – which offers long-term solutions for men suffering from substance misuse.

“Any government funding usually goes to short-term two week detoxes,” Bartlett explained. “The system is flawed.”

Bartlett said getting people sober, and helping them stay that way – one day at a time – is the proven model of success. The longer people are sober, the more likely they will stay that way and not relapse, he said.

“We have a system that government and insurance continues to follow, which doesn’t work,” Bartlett added. “Clinical treatment, which is what the government is going to be providing funding for, has no better success rate than the type treatment which we provide.”