- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is proposing $600 million in emergency funding to address an opioid and heroin abuse crisis that she says is spiraling out of control.

“This should be an all-hands-on-deck moment, not just for New Hampshire but for our country,” Shaheen, a Democrat, said Monday. “We are losing lives daily, and our first responders, health care providers and criminal justice system are overwhelmed.”

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is asking the Department of Health and Human Services to designate opioid abuse as a national public health emergency. Ayotte said such a declaration would help send more resources to New Hampshire and other states.

“I have heard from a number of constituents in New Hampshire - including parents who have lost children, as well as other concerned members of the community - who recognize the severity of this epidemic and agree that a state of public health emergency declaration would provide the crucial resources that are needed to stem the tide of overdose deaths in New Hampshire and across the country,” said Ayotte, who also has asked Senate leaders to include the highest level of funding for substance abuse and treatment in any final appropriations packages.

Opioid-related deaths quadrupled nationally from 2002 to 2013, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Hampshire, drug overdose deaths climbed from 193 in 2013 to 326 last year, and nearly 300 have died so far this year. That prompted Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan to call a special session of the Legislature last week. The session resulted in the creation of a task force that will spend six weeks studying substance abuse issues including insurance coverage for treatment, drug courts; strengthening the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, boosting law enforcement, cracking down on fentanyl dealers and continuing education for opioid prescribers.

The bulk of the money in Shaheen’s proposal would go to the Department of Health and Human Services, including $250 million that would be distributed to states as block grants for prevention, treatment and recovery programs. The CDC would get $50 million to support work on prescription monitoring and other programs, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse would get $35 million for targeted research on drug addiction. Schools that partner with their communities to create safe, drug-free environments and to promote the behavioral health of children would get $5 million, as would community organizations that develop peer coaching and support programs for those in recovery.

An additional $200 million would go to the Department of Justice for grants that fund programs focused on law enforcement, courts and education.

Shaheen announced the bill Monday and will formally introduce it when the Senate is in session next week. Lawmakers on the state task force are expected to propose legislation in early January.

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