Hassan visits Weeks Medical Center
By Tara Giles
LANCASTER — On Friday, Aug. 18, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan traveled north to Lancaster, where she met with members of the MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment), as well as board members and other faculty.
The MAT program at Weeks is the only one of its kind in the North Country, and seeks to combat the growing fentanyl and opioid crisis. Hassan listened while hospital administrators discussed how the epidemic is affecting those here in the North Country.
A $250,000 grant was given to Weeks to begin a new Medication Assisted Therapy program. Those accepted into the program must be a current patient in the Weeks system and must go through an extensive interview process to be treated. Their addiction must have originated from prescription pain medications to be considered for the initial program. The estimate is that 30-40 will be participating within the first year.
Weeks Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lars Nielson explained to Hassan that currently six patients are being treated with suboxone and one with vivitrol. Neilson said, “So far all of our patients have passed their drug tests.”
Neilson added, “Here at Weeks Medical Center, medication-assisted treatment is helping Granite Staters get the treatment they need to combat addiction. Sen. Hassan’s office has played a critical role in supporting our MAT program, helping us obtain a waiver from the DEA to provide the treatment our patients need. It is going to take all of us working together in order to defeat this crisis – and we are grateful for Sen. Hassan’s visit and the efforts she is taking.”
Board of Trustees Chair Stan Holz said, “We watch whats going on in Nashua and down state and I think a lot of us were fairly complacent about it until the MAT program where we were introduced to what is actually happening here, we thought it was a southern issue.”
Hassan responded, “Rural communities have been hit by this incredibly hard and I don’t know weather there is significant evidence yet to support some of the way this is happening but I think what we do know besides the fact that the more opioids that are prescribed the more people will become addicted. The onslaught of much more affordable heroin and the chemical fentanyl has meant that the profit margins for drug dealers is incredibly high. My own theory is that some of the dealers avoided the large cities where there was already dealers so they avoided Boston and New York and targeted more rural places. My theory is also that rural communities have a lower law enforcement presence that gives dealers incentive.”
Hassan has introduced bi-partisan bills that seek to thwart the opiod crisis. Hassan along with Republican Sen. Todd Young from Indiana introduced the Opiod Addiction Risk Transparency Act. This bill seeks to ensure that health care providers understand the risks of addiction so that they in turn can educate their patients.
Hassan then joined Republican Rob Portman of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar a Democrat from Minnesota and Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and introduced the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act. The goal of the bill is to stop deadly synthetic drugs like carfentanyl and fentanyl from being shipped into the United States from such countries as India and China.
To that, Hassan said, “Members of our DEA traveled to China to meet with members of the government to say look, we’re getting pre-cursor chemicals from your country and it’s a real problem in the United States.”
President of Weeks Medical Center Mike Lee said, “We had a meeting with our EMT’s who we work really close with that are on the front lines along with our doctors. They’re administering the Narcan and are getting burn out, they’re ruining the high of these people. These people who are overdosing know the EMTs a this point. Our plan is to try to help them so we can get people into the new Friendship House and get them treatement as fast as possible.”
Hassan feels that the drug problem will lighten however says it will take years before we start to see the tide turn.