4 steps to help address the opioid epidemic

It’s an issue of humanity, and it’s important to take action now

I appreciate that President Trump visited New Hampshire to unveil his plan for how to resolve the opioid epidemic. Beyond the pipe and drape, national media, standing ovations and promises made, my sincere hope is that next steps include a quick and substantial influx of specific resources to New Hampshire.

The president’s promise that we would end the scourge of drug addiction in America once and for all by being tough, smart, kind and loving resonated with me and with my team. I hope he will follow through with the help we need at Farnum and throughout the state’s treatment community.

The president highlighted the need to address treatment, prescription drug policy, stricter law enforcement and enhancing deterrence efforts. We appreciate he is leading this conversation. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is an issue of humanity and it’s important to take action now.

After listening to President Trump’s message, I respectfully suggest four areas where more resources could make an immediate impact:

 • Treatment personnel and training: Many substance abuse providers can’t afford to pay the salaries of medical personnel who are essential to treatment. And although jobs are available, finding qualified counselors and treatment experts is a challenge. We need a program to accelerate and fund training for treatment providers to meet growing demand and we need to view this as a plan to address addiction with an investment that thinks long term.

 • Narcan: This life-saving medication reverses the effects of an overdose. It saves lives but, at $150 per dose, it is prohibitively expensive. We applaud making Narcan available for free in schools and on college campuses and we support the proposal to federally fund Narcan for law enforcement. We should expand that approach to first responders and treatment providers like Farnum.

 • Increase Medicaid reimbursement: New Hampshire needs to protect this vital program and recognize that current reimbursement rates for substance abuse treatment are so low they don’t come close to covering the actual cost of treatment. This is one major reason why so many treatment providers struggle to stay open. In January 2019, when all Medicaid clients are pulled off the exchange and placed in the full Medicaid population, the reimbursement rate for treatment will be $162.50. The Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services pays $140 a day. However, the cost to run a program is approximately $275 a day for residential and $425 a day for detox. The financial shortfall is unsustainable.

 • Increase financial aid for treatment: We should provide financial aid to help fund treatment for men and women who would otherwise be turned away from care for lack of resources. Most treatment centers offer financial aid, but there are limits. We need resources to fund operations of all treatment centers around New Hampshire and beyond. Hope for New Hampshire is a perfect example of a facility doing good work while struggling to fund its operations. The state has stepped in, but we need sustainable funding.

In the last three years, Farnum has rapidly expanded its available beds, more than doubling space to 140 beds. Our administrators have opened and expanded a facility in Franklin. It has expanded Suboxone treatment, with more providers and more client openings. Farnum has expanded hours to help families through the evening intensive outpatient program. But costs are rising, demand is rising and assistance from the state and federal government is not rising to meet this demand. We need help and we need it right away. Treatment works, but it cannot be unattainable to those who need it if we are really going to respond to this epidemic.

Cheryl Wilkie is chief operating officer of the Farnum centers in Manchester and in Franklin.

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