The New Hampshire Legislature's joint task force on opioid and heroin abuse worked through December to discuss the state's growing drug epidemic. Those recommendations have been sent to the governor and public leaders, and they'll start going through a public hearing process in the legislature next week.
Joining NHPR to talk about what the task force concluded is Senator Jeb Bradley. He served as chair of the task force.
The recommendations your forwarded fell into a few different priority levels. Can you spell them out for us?
What we wanted to do is, the ones that were vetted the most, we called them "expedited," so they will have a joint public hearing next week, house and senate, and they should be on the governor's desk by mid-January. Then others were designated for "early consideration," so we hope to have them through the legislative process by early February.
Then where was a third category, and that would be?
The regular order, and that will just go through the legislative process.
The expedited items include: stiffer penalties for those making and selling fentanyl, drug education in schools, and permanent state funding for the prescription drug monitoring program, among others. You're fairly confident these will pass by the end of January?
I feel very confident that we will see early adoption of those measures. I think there's no controversy that fentanyl, which is even more potent than heroin, should be treated the same way with the enhanced penalties of heroin. The upgrades to the prescription monitoring program, that was legislation I sponsored several years ago. We've got it up and running, now it's time to take it to the next level.
And one of the early items you're hoping will pass in February is money for a state-wide drug court program, that's something you've been pushing for. Why is this an early item instead of an expedited one?
With regard to all the moneyed items, we really need to see how fiscal '15, which was June 30th of 2015, how that fiscal year ended. So, drug courts work, but we need to make sure we have the three million dollars which the legislation which I've sponsored calls for.
So is it fair to say that the proposals on the expedited list are on the expedited list because they don't cost as much and won't present some kind of concern?
Any of the items on the expedited list, there's a very small price tag to them, prescription monitoring drug program, for instance, that's going to require doctors, dentists, other prescribers of opioids be required to utilize it far more often than they are today. In order to make that happen, we've got to do a one-time technology upgrade of $130,000 and I think that will happen without any problem.
One parent testified about losing her son and in the details, talked about how her son had problems accessing treatment because of insurance problems. So what has the task force done around insurance companies to make sure that people who need and want treatment can get it?
So we've done a couple of things. We've said that the criteria that the criteria that any insurance company uses that offers a substance abuse benefit - which is required under the Affordable Care Act - have to use the same criteria so that whether you have Anthem or Harvard Pilgrim or some other insurance in New Hampshire, they will be the same criteria. Second, we said two outpatient visits shouldn't have to go through the prior authorization channel. What we stopped short of because there will be further legislation that will consider this is should there be the same requirement for pre-authorization for inpatient visits.
The Insurance Department is a little bit skeptical of doing that without the study that they're conducting right now being finished, so we should have those results by mid-January, we will consider whether those inpatient treatment should not have prior authorization.
The state has a shortage of beds for people who require treatment for addiction. Has the task force taken any steps to increase the number of beds?
One of the things we did in the budget is to increase funding for alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment efforts. We increased that funding from $24 million dollars to $42 million dollars, an $18 million dollar increase. Some of that money should be going toward more beds. We increased funding, for instance, for ten new beds at the New Hampshire Hospital. Now that's largely a mental health issue but there's a lot of overlap between addiction problems and mental health. Those things are just now in the process three or four months later, unfortunately, of being allocated. So I think it's important to allocate those dollars, and there will be a request for another five million dollars for the commission on drug and alcohol recovery that the legislature will take up.
Do you support that $5 million dollars?
You know, I want to see how the $18 million dollars we just gave to these programs is going to be spent. Depending on whether we have the money available is a big thing, we still don't have that answer. We may have some consideration of this request, there was a request for more prosecutors at the Attorney General's office, drug courts, more law enforcement presence, so all of these things will have to be considered. I think that at the end of the day we're going to end up funding quite a bit of these initiatives.