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Rep. Kuster Meets With Leaders on the Frontlines of N.H.'s Opioid Epidemic

Robert Garrova for NHPR
Rep. Annie Kuster leads a discussion with leaders on the frontlines of NH's opioid epidemic.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster met in Concord Monday with more than a dozen state and local leaders to discuss how to best use funding aimed at the opioid epidemic.


Kuster led a listening session where doctors, law enforcement and mental health experts offered expertise on how to battle addiction in the state.


One major theme was that, while the promise of billions of dollars in funding is welcome, New Hampshire needs to do more to make sure there's a trained workforce on the front lines.


“Recruitment would also be something I encourage,” Dr. Molly Rossignol of Concord Hospital said. “You can go on Indeed.com and there are only two addiction medicine jobs available in the state, though I look around and I sure could use some colleagues.”


Kuster said the state’s need for increased training and recruitment of Medication Assisted Treatment providers and a recovery and treatment workforce was one of her main takeaways from the meeting.


“We now have programs that want to expand access to treatment, but we need to do more to make sure that we have the workforce -- mental health providers, substance use providers -- that can come together in these programs and really make a difference,” Kuster said.


Another point was the changing nature of addiction: First it was heroin in New Hampshire, then fentanyl and now methamphetamines are part of the discussion, participants pointed out.


“It was law enforcement that was a bit of a canary in the coal mine to tell us, ‘Hey this was coming,’ said Tym Rourke, of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, speaking on the early warning signs of New Hampshire’s opioid epidemic. “So it’s sort of in that spirit that I would lay a caution on the table, which is, what law enforcement is telling us now is about meth.”


Kuster said she hears the concern of those who don’t want to focus on opioids at the expense of ignoring New Hampshire’s larger drug misuse issues.


"I think the point was being made by people in the addiction field is for us not to tailor the remedies so narrowly that they wouldn't be flexible enough to tackle whatever the next problem is coming our way," said Kuster.


Kuster's meeting comes roughly one month after she and a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the CARA 2.0 bill in Washington, which would provide almost $1 billion for treatment and recovery services.