Lawmakers Hear Proposal Requiring N.H.'s County Jails To Offer Drug Treatment Programs

Feb 4, 2020

Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR

County jails in New Hampshire would be required to offer medication-assisted treatment, also known as MAT, for inmates with substance misuse disorder under a bill that went before lawmakers today.

MAT includes anti-opioid medications, along with counseling and therapy, to help people with substance use disorders.

Most county jails in New Hampshire already offer some form of the treatment, but last November Carroll County commissioners voted to end its MAT program.

Democratic State Senator Tom Sherman, the bill’s sponsor, told fellow lawmakers on Tuesday that standardizing MAT treatment across all jails in the state will save lives.

The bill has the support of groups including the New Hampshire Hospital Association, ACLU-NH, and the New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition.

“This is not something that needs to be debated and the science looked at,” said Joe Hannon with the Harm Reduction Coalition. “This is an emergency. People are dying at astounding rates. And this must pass.”

Two county jail superintendents, Stephen Church of Rockingham County and Keith Gray of Belknap County, testified in opposition to the bill.

Both made clear they support MAT and offer it at their facilities, but argued that the bill before lawmakers is redundant with existing state law.

“We're not opposed to MAT treatment, we just feel that this is a medical issue that the medical professionals should be dealing with, just as they deal with other healthcare issues as well,” said Gray.

Gray and Church also argued that in addition to existing state law, federal court cases also establish that jails are required to offer MAT.