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ICYMI: NH Bulletin: Hassan and Kuster talk substance use funding, fentanyl precursors in China

MANCHESTER – On Monday, Senator Maggie Hassan and Congresswoman Annie Kuster joined a Behavioral Health Forum hosted by The New England Council. Senator Hassan and Congresswoman Kuster highlighted some of the progress made in addressing the fentanyl crisis and expanding mental health resources in recent years, as well as the work ahead.

Senator Hassan and Congresswoman Kuster in particular highlighted their efforts to reauthorize the SUPPORT Act – a landmark investment into substance misuse prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement efforts that they both worked to pass into law in 2018. Recently, Senator Hassan has introduced bipartisan legislation to permanently expand coverage for medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder under Medicaid as well as bipartisan legislation that expands access to short-term inpatient treatment at addiction treatment facilities, both of which could also be part of the SUPPORT Act reauthorization. Since 2017, Senator Hassan has successfully worked to secure a nine-fold increase in funding to New Hampshire to address the substance use disorder epidemic. During the New England Council event, Senator Hassan also discussed her recent trip to China, where she and a bipartisan group of her colleagues pushed for further action to combat fentanyl trafficking.

Kuster has played a leading role in strengthening and expanding Congress’ response to the mental health and substance use disorder epidemics. As the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force, which she began in 2015, Kuster has brought together over 140 Democratic and Republican lawmakers committed to combating the growing opioid, substance use disorder, and mental health crises. During the 117th Congress, her Task Force passed 26 bills from their legislative agenda into law. She is working to extend that progress in the 188th Congress by passing their 2023 Legislative Agenda.

Read more from New Hampshire Bulletin here or below:

New Hampshire Bulletin: Hassan and Kuster talk substance use funding, fentanyl precursors in China

By Hadley Barndollar

Joining the New England Council Monday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, one half of the state’s congressional delegation discussed current efforts on Capitol Hill related to mental health and substance use.

Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Annie Kuster answered questions from Neil Meehan, chief physician executive at Exeter Health Resources, about where federal dollars have been flowing, recent accomplishments in the behavioral health sphere, and challenges that are continuing to evolve.

Here are two takeaways from Hassan and Kuster’s conversation at the New England Council’s program, “Behavioral Health Forum: Regional Challenges and Solutions.”

Reauthorizing the 2018 SUPPORT Act

The SUPPORT Act, signed into law in 2018, was Congress’ most comprehensive opioid crisis response to date, shifting the federal approach to addressing substance abuse. In New Hampshire, it resulted in a nine-fold increase in related funding, Hassan said.

But the SUPPORT Act expired at the end of September and now needs to be reauthorized, something Hassan and Kuster have been working on in Washington.

Hassan said the reauthorization needs to increase and sustain funding, target workforce issues, and address the changing nature of criminal organizations bringing fentanyl and xylazine into the U.S. Some related provisions she’s spearheading include student debt relief for individuals who chose to enter the addiction field, federal funding for fentanyl and xylazine test strips, and making substance use disorder treatment permanent under Medicaid.

Earlier this year, Kuster introduced legislation to reauthorize the SUPPORT Act, with additional provisions including: expanded access to treatment and recovery programs; resources to monitor infections related to drug use; prescription drug diversion; laboratory detection tools; workforce investment; and support for recovery community organizations and peer-run recovery support, among others.

China fentanyl precursor threat

While much progress has been made to stand up treatment infrastructure and fight addiction-related stigma, Hassan said transnational criminal organizations are changing their behavior as a result.

Hassan recently traveled to China as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese officials about limiting the export of precursor chemicals used to make illicit fentanyl by cartels in Mexico.

Following her visit, during a Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing, Hassan questioned officials from the Department of State, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security about how U.S. agencies can use international partnerships to address the precursor chemical pipeline that cartels are using to produce illicit synthetic drugs.

Last week, the White House announced that China had agreed to resume cooperation against counternarcotics with the U.S. following a meeting between both presidents.

“Now what the cartels are doing (is) tricking people into taking their first dose of fentanyl by counterfeiting pills,” Hassan said, calling it an “insidious transnational problem” that has prompted widespread warnings to young people and families about the dangers of buying drugs on the internet.

Regarding international drug trafficking, Kuster added that related issues facing U.S. law enforcement are “very real.” “We can’t have it both ways,” she said. “Not supporting law enforcement and hoping to solve this problem.”