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Housing, Transportation Emerge as Key Priorities as State's New Addiction-Treatment Program Grows

Sara Plourde
New Hampshire Public Radio

As part of broader efforts to address the opioid crisis, New Hampshire plans to invest $2.5 million in federal funds toward short-term housing vouchers for patients awaiting treatment.

It’s one of several priorities outlined this month in a formal proposal by state health officials to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently confirmed New Hampshire is eligible for an additional $12 million through its ongoing State Opioid Response (SOR) grant. The money is a significant boost over the previously announced $23 million for the current fiscal year.

The SOR grant is backing an all-hours call line, 2-1-1, and system of walk-in addiction centers, called Doorways, across the state.

Governor Chris Sununu and Health Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers have heralded this program as a game-changer for the way New Hampshire treats addiction, lowering barriers to care for residents across the state.

First quarter data released this week shows promise along those lines. The number of patients referred to treatment through the nine Doorway centers, which opened January 1, has been steadily rising, from 187 in January to 324 in March.

All told in the first three months, more than 1,400 individuals accessed treatment or information in-person at the Doorway centers or over the phone.  

But officials say they’ve also encountered challenges in the first few months, including a shortage of short-term housing for those lacking a safe place to stay while awaiting treatment.

In the absence of local respite beds in many areas of the state, individuals continue to travel to Manchester and Nashua to seek shelter through the Safe Stations programs in those cities.

Expenses for copays, transportation and childcare are also significant barriers to treatment for many patients.

The recently announced increase in federal funds will allow officials to address some of those needs, said Katja Fox, director of the Division for Behavioral Health at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s a “tremendous opportunity,” she said, “to be able to plug those holes that have become more apparent as we’ve implemented the program.”

The state is looking to allocate a quarter of the additional $12 million toward reimbursements for residential treatment facilities, which will allow DHHS to contract with more providers.

Other priorities include expanded distribution of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan, as well as investments in programs specifically designed for pregnant women, individuals leaving jails across the state, and families involved with the child welfare system.

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