More work is required in opioid battle

What it comes down to is the will to spend money to address the crisis

After plenty of coaxing by Gov. Maggie Hassan, the results of the Legislative Task Force on Substance Abuse are trickling into the governor’s office to be signed into law. While we’re off to a good start, we’ve got a long way to go.

My Democratic colleagues, while appreciative of the work of the task force, would have taken a different approach — quite frankly, we would have gone further and faster than the Republican leadership. We need to be bold and embrace policies that work.

In fact, the Governor’s Commission on Substance Abuse already has a comprehensive plan. All it needs is funding. The most compelling comment I heard during the task force’s meetings was a paraphrased quote from French poet and aviation pioneer Antoine Saint-Exupéry: “A goal without funding is just a wish.”

What stands in the way of progress is the Republicans’ rigid, impractical ideology and plain-old “penny-wise, pound-foolish” cheapness. Our state’s famous frugality often serves us well — by stretching tax dollars, creating a business-friendly and low-tax haven. However, neglecting necessary public investments erodes our quality of life and the very essence of what draws and holds people to this place.

The drug epidemic is not limited in its reach to those immediately affected; our entire community’s sense of safety is at risk. An increase in property crimes, violent behaviors and more neglected children are but a few of the consequences.

The true test of our resolve to restore health and well-being to our citizens will be providing more funding for prevention, treatment and recovery. We’ve heard, again and again, addicts crying out for treatment only to be told that none is available. Renewing our bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan is the single best way to increase access to treatment because the plan offers a substance abuse benefit.

But that’s not all. New Hampshire is next to last in the entire country in access to treatment programs and, not surprisingly, our spending on such programs is among the lowest in the Northeast. With state revenues $37 million ahead of estimates for the year and enough money to give tax breaks to big businesses, it’s not that we don’t have the money.

What this really comes down to is the will to spend money to address this crisis. Just last month, Senate Republicans delayed action on funding for two pieces of legislation that were unanimously recommended by the bipartisan 26-member Substance Abuse Task Force and that were expected to sail through the Senate.

No cost is too high to save the lives of Granite Staters.

As a senator from the North Country (and a former teacher), I see the drug problems as closely linked to poverty and hopelessness. While substance abuse touches all people, the burden is far heavier when you’re poor, uneducated and powerless.

With most of the state’s incarcerated men in my district, I’m a regular visitor to our prisons. I recall touring the hobby shop, where long-term inmates craft beautiful things with tools that could turn deadly in a moment. These inmates stay straight — out of gangs and off drugs — because they live for their work. Their craft motivates and guides them along their daily existence.

Prevention, treatment and recovery services are smart investments, but the best alternative to drugs and addiction’s grip is meaningful work and realistic hope for a better future. Any path to recovery must be laced with hope and commitment to expand opportunity for all.

Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, is the minority leader of the NH Senate.

Categories: Opinion