- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - Republican lawmakers on Tuesday said they’ll propose legislation to create a $2.5 million grant program that would help fund more drug courts as New Hampshire battles an ongoing opioid abuse crisis.

State Sens. Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and David Boutin of Hooksett made the proposal in Manchester alongside Mayor Ted Gatsas and other public officials. Gatsas has called for a drug court in the state’s largest city.

Boutin called the abuse epidemic unprecedented and said the courts would help addicts get substance abuse treatment, an alternative that is both less expensive than prison and one that cuts down on the number of repeat offenders.

“It’s a lot cheaper to get somebody back on their feet versus what it costs to send someone to prison,” he said.

Drug courts already exist in Cheshire, Grafton, Rockingham, Strafford and Hillsborough counties along with the city of Laconia. Several of the courts were started with federal grant money.

Under the legislation, the state would provide 50 percent of the cost to open drug courts, and counties would kick in the rest. The bill also would establish an office in the judicial branch focused on drug courts. Counties would need to arrange with a treatment center to ensure the courts have somewhere to send people. New Hampshire’s existing treatment facilities already experience long waiting lists, and efforts are underway to open more treatment beds statewide.

More than 300 people died from drug overdoses in New Hampshire last year, and officials say the state is on pace to reach or top that number this year. Other initiatives passed earlier this year include a bill that allows doctors to prescribe naloxone - also known by its trade name Narcan - to people at risk of an overdose or their loved ones.

“We must do what we can to provide a wholesome approach that both treats individuals experiencing substance abuse problems as well as address recidivism as it relates to public safety in our communities,” Bradley said.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said expanding access to drug courts should be part of a comprehensive approach to the drug crisis that includes more treatment beds and reauthorization of Medicaid expansion.

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