Task force advancing efforts to curb drug crisis

Lawmakers worked to begin a comprehensive approach to growing problem

In December, the Joint Task Force for the Response to the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic met to review recommendations and approve its preliminary report. It was the culmination of weeks of work by the task force to identify and prioritize the best possible public policy solutions available to address the drug crisis, given what we know at this time.

We recognized that the heroin and opioid epidemic is a public health crisis in New Hampshire and believed that a serious and thoughtful examination of these issues was required before we rushed into passing legislation.

We didn’t want to create a crisis while trying to find solutions. Rather than pass a 17-page bill in one day, as the governor would have preferred, we created this task force to provide the focused, detailed attention this crisis deserves, and find avenues to move our fight against addiction in a responsible manner.

Appointees included leaders from both parties in both the House and Senate, members of policy committees who have detailed experience in the policy scope of the task force, and legislators with personal or professional backgrounds in law enforcement, law practice, medical practice, and addiction treatment and recovery.

House and Senate members had already filed more than a dozen of bills each aiming to address the crisis. The applicable bills were assigned to divisions based on their subject matter, and reviewed by the divisions, and when possible, hear testimony from the sponsoring legislators.

We understood the importance of bringing in a broad array of stakeholders who could provide input on prospective legislation, inform the task force about what they see and deal with on a daily basis in their various capacities.

After two weeks of intense and detailed work the divisions each produced a list of recommendations that were reviewed by the full task force. A daylong session of review and discussion on these recommendations resulted in the approval of the task force’s initial report, which contains a detailed legislative path forward.

Included in the report are a set of bills that the task force felt could be fast-tracked. These expedited bills will have joint House and Senate public hearings in order to be acted on by the full House and Senate sooner, and if approved, reach the governor’s desk for signature sooner.

These proposals include increased criminal penalties related to fentanyl, requiring health insurance carriers to adjust how they address substance use disorder services, establishing a commission to study issues relating to Narcan, and requiring all public schools to provide age appropriate drug and alcohol education.

Additional expedited proposals include expanding use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, modifying membership to the Board of Medicine, requiring more education for prescribers, and examining whether the state should have a 24-hour drug crisis hotline.

There is also a set of bills that require more research and review by the House and Senate policy committees, but show promise as being tools that can strengthen our ability to address this crisis. These include expansion of the state’s drug courts, additional modifications to insurance regulations, and programs to enhance law enforcement. These bills will be prioritized during the normal legislative process.

Additionally, the task force identified a number of other proposals that may require a more significant amount of research and review, and recommended that they go through the normal legislative process to ensure the best possible final product.

It’s important to remember that this is an evolving public health crisis and the task force was never intended to be a one-shot solution. It has been our focused course of action to create the best possible recommendations to move us forward.

Our work doesn’t stop now that our preliminary report is filed. We will take action as appropriate and move forward on other initiatives as our legislative session plays out in 2016. This is an ongoing, comprehensive effort that we hope will save lives. 

Rep. Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, serves as House majority leader and vice chair of the Joint Task Force for the Response to the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic.

Categories: Opinion