- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

FRANKLIN, N.H. (AP) - Responding to the state’s growing opiate and heroin abuse problem, Easter Seals plans to open 62 new treatment beds in Franklin.

Officials including Gov. Maggie Hassan and Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield symbolically broke ground on Franklin’s new Farnum Center on Monday, which will house 20 beds for a 30-day treatment program. Easter Seals is also seeking a license to turn 42 beds at Webster Place in Franklin into a residential treatment program.

More than 320 people died from drug overdoses in New Hampshire last year, prompting elected officials, advocates and treatment providers to increase efforts to expand prevention, treatment and recovery programs statewide.

“There’s a horrible epidemic that’s been going on for way too long in our state,” said Cheryl Wilkie, senior vice president for substance abuse services at the Farnum Center. “Everybody deserves humane, dignified treatment.”

Officials hope to open the 20-bed facility, which costs about $1 million to renovate, by February. Easter Seals, a national charitable organization that provides social services, is also seeking to raise at least $5 million for more renovations on the Franklin campus. The state now has 228 licensed treatment beds, with an additional 116 going through the licensing process, according to Hassan’s office.

Hassan said increasing access to treatment is a top priority for the state, and she highlighted other efforts by her office and lawmakers to combat the growing problem. Among them: Increasing access to the opioid antidote naloxone, starting a prescription drug monitoring program and expanding mental health services. The state is also evaluating the state’s licensing process for residential programs to make it easier for facilities to become licensed.

Substance abuse is the state’s “most serious public health and safety concern,” Hassan said.

Hassan said that continuing the state’s Medicaid expansion is the best way to preserve and increase treatment options. The state’s expansion program provides coverage for substance abuse services, something traditional Medicaid historically has not covered. The state’s expansion plan is set to sunset at the end of next year, and lawmakers will debate whether to reauthorize it in the upcoming session.

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