- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - An advocacy group estimates drug and alcohol abuse cost New Hampshire $2.36 billion in 2014 in lost productivity, health care and strains on the criminal justice system.

A Monday report released by New Futures shows the growing economic toll of the crisis - up more than $50 million from the two previous years - as well as a growth in the number of people seeking treatment under provisions in former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The report also shows that while opioid abuse is increasing, alcohol abuse remains a more significant addiction problem, with more than 110,000 New Hampshire workers experiencing alcohol dependence.

New Hampshire has one of the highest per capita death rates due to drug overdoses in the nation, with nearly 500 people dying from an overdose last year. The report estimates more than 30,000 people in New Hampshire over the age of 15 abused drugs in 2014. New Hampshire is second only to Rhode Island in the percentage of people over age 12 with alcohol and drug dependence, federal data shows.

“There’s no price we can place on the lives lost,” said Kate Frey, New Futures‘ director of advocacy.

Most of the $2.36 billion in costs comes from lost worker productivity, estimated at roughly $1.5 billion. Elsewhere, the report finds substance abuse costs the state more than $330 million in health care and more than $306 million in the criminal justice system.

The nonprofit’s report comes on the heels of the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of a health care bill that critics worry will gut the state’s ability to fight the opioid crisis. The bill would cut money for Medicaid expansion and let states decide whether insurers must cover substance abuse and mental health treatment. It now moves to the U.S. Senate.

“Those two components of the Affordable Care Act have actually been the cornerstone of our efforts here in New Hampshire to expand treatment and address our opioid crisis,” said Linda Saunders Paquette, president of New Futures.

The number of insurance claims for substance abuse treatment in the state jumped from 63,000 in 2012 to 390,000 in 2014, the report shows. And more than 10,000 low-income people on Medicaid expansion have accessed substance abuse treatment since the law took effect.

At a separate event Monday, Democratic U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen criticized the U.S. House for passing legislation that could undermine those benefits.

“It would take a wrecking ball to the progress that we’ve made to address the opioid crisis,” Shaheen said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is expected to be in New Hampshire on Wednesday to discuss the opioid crisis with Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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